An Ode to the Wheel: Designing a Farm Out-Building

Farming is often the art of materials handling. We deal with heavy things (feed, seed, soil amendments, pork) all day, every day, and in the thick of it my back barks like a hungry puppy. To preserve ourselves and ensure a long career in this business, we have to design our systems to minimize wear and tear. I’ve long dreamt of the day we could simply roll heavy things in and out of the back of our truck and trailer with the aid of glorious wheels gliding on smooth concrete.

Shed in progress.jpg

The building is 36’ wide by 24’ feet deep, with one grade height, drive-in door, and two short, pickup truck height loading docks. It’s set into a hill sideways, with the grade height access at the top of the hill. This first bay will protect a tractor or other large machinery, while the middle will be feed, seed, or raw material storage. The third bay will eventually house a walk-in freezer. 

This is vital for us, as we need to transfer delicate product as quickly and easily as possible during the heat of the summer. We process animals on a rolling schedule, so we’re not only packing coolers for market several times per week, but we’re also picking up meat from our processor and shuffling it around to an off-site storage facility to maintain strict first-in, first-out protocols. Heaving loaded coolers in and out of a pickup truck in July gets old pretty fast. Now we’ll employ a hand truck to make this safer for ourselves and our products.

Less important, but still an efficiency we can realize through thoughtful design, is our feed handling. About once every two weeks, we pick up pig feed by the ton from our neighbors at Union Mills Feed. If we fill our own containers (reusable 1000 lb. capacity bags) they offer significant savings (economically and environmentally) over buying the same product in 50 lb. bags. This presents a minor problem for us, because until recently we were tractor-less and thus had no way of unloading these huge bags besides transferring with a bucket (not fun).  So we used a small flatbed trailer and simply left the feed on it, covered with a tarp. This worked well for a few years, but meant our valuable feed was exposed to the elements and curious critters, and we never had use of our handy trailer for other projects. With our new shed and truck-height loading dock, we can unload with a simple pallet jack and pick up about twice as much feed per trip.

Beyond the joys of the wheel, this transition is important for us. Physically separating farm operations from our home will allow us to better distinguish our business from our family life. We’ll squeeze a desk and coffee machine in our new shed, so we don’t have to take off our muddy boots to come in the house to warm up on a cold day. We’ll move our files out of the guest bedroom and reclaim the garage for (gasp!) parking a car or building a climbing wall for Freddy.

Our farm is entering its third year, and has so far proven to be sustainable from a personal and economic point-of-view. Now we’re pouring revenue back into it, so that we can feed more people while maintaining our mission! Now, back to work...