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The Shady Details

June 7, 2010

This year is the first year we’ve really gotten our pasture shelters working and available. Prior to this, we hopscotched around, trying to take advantage of the trees in different parts of the pasture, unable to really organize grazing based on the grass. Without adequate shade in the summer heat, some of our pasture didn’t get grazed at all until the weather cooled. We also were unable to lamb on pasture, so the lambs got a slow start in grazing.

Three generations of Cordero Hoophouses: from R to L, versions 1 through 3

The challenge: shelters big enough to accommodate the flock, light enough to move with a 4-wheeler, sturdy enough to withstand Oklahoma weather, and cheap enough to not add to the price of the lamb we sell. With every version, we made changes; some improvements have been kept and others discarded with the next version. In this post, I want to share the key features. Later on, I’ll show you the mistakes we made that you should not repeat, (my version of “do as I say, not as I did”).

Neighbor Max welding on Hoophouse 1.0 (You don't see Sue, but she is in the background with a water hose, ready to douse any fires started by welding sparks. Safety first!)

All of the hoophouses have a base of 2 3/8″ used oilfield pipe, with gussets of square tubing at the corners and upturned ends allowing the house to skid along when it’s pulled to a new location. In addition, they are all covered with 20mil thick billboard tarps. Version 1.0 started as a 9′ wide x 20′ long oilfield pipe base with 5 cattle panels bent to form the ‘hoop’ top. At first, we didn’t weld the panels to the base, to have some future flexibility. The problem with that was that the whole top was flexible… as a slinky! Our neighbor, Max, had welded the base, and he had the bright idea to make hoops out of square tubing and weld them at each end to provide stability. Overall, it’s held up well, but the cattle panels make it too heavy for the available square footage. Looking at Max’s hoops gave me the idea to make the whole thing of hoops, like a greenhouse.

For version 2.0, we went wider and taller. It’s a good 7 feet tall, with a wider base of 12 feet, while sticking with the 20′ length. With the extra width, it’s has 20% more square footage. However, it’s way too tall and uses too much of the billboard tarp.

The hoops are 4 foot apart, so there are 6 hoops on the 20' length. Here, we are using rope to pull the tarp over the hoops.

The hoops have been two different sizes, but the best size seems to be 1 1/4″ square tubing, with inserts of 1″ hay rings. The Railroad Yard bends the 1″ square tubing into rounds for hay rings. To make it work for hoops, we cut them in half and flatten the ends so that they can slip into the 1 1/4″ square tubing. Where they are inserted, we weld them. On version 2.0, we use 1/2″ rebar for purlins, but it has too much ‘give’ to work with. On version 3, we changed to using square tubing for purlins, but it is too heavy. We also made it 28′ long, but by doing so, made it too heavy to pull with a 4-wheeler. In all future versions, it will be 20′ long at the max.

No matter the length, the one key element is how to keep the tarp attached snugly to the hoops. We have settled on wiggle wire in channel to secure it, the same stuff used by commercial greenhouses.

Cyrena anchors two sections of tarp with the wiggle wire at the top of version 2.0

We use the wiggle wire on the ends and on one side to attach the extra section of tarp required. The tarps are a standard 14′ width, and the hoops are bigger than that.

Shelby shows how to use the wiggle wire to attach the tarp to the channel

The tarps are gusseted along the outer edges, so we make sure there’s a gusseted side next to the base all the way around. Then we slip rebar through the gussets and tie the rebar to the base with heavy-duty tarp straps or wire.

Here's one of the finished products

These shelters have held up really well. Shelby’s finished welding a chicken house version (we’ll unveil that to you in a week or two), and he’s going to start on a 4th sheep shelter soon. The cost of each is well under $400, or less than $2/sq foot! I think we’ll have to replace the billboard tarps at some point, but the first one has lasted more than 2 years so far and has minimal wear. Cheap, easy, and durable–so far, so good!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sue Young permalink
    June 7, 2010 11:36 pm

    It takes a village to build a hoophouse! I hope the Eagle radio station likes the free publicity!

  2. June 8, 2010 1:58 pm

    I might start calling you gals “The Mothers Of Invention”! That’s American ingenuity at work right there.

    • June 8, 2010 11:18 pm

      Aw, Stephen, that’s sweet! As long as you don’t call us late for dinner 😉

  3. June 28, 2010 5:52 am

    Where do you get your billboard tarps from?

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  1. Helter Shelter « Who's Your Farmer?

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