Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tightwad's Goat Hay Rack

How cheap am I?

Apparently, cheap enough, and mouthy enough about it, that there is now a snarky betting pool based on my skinflint evangelism.

A colleague once credited me with imbuing her with the ethic "Never spend more than a buck for a dog toy." Which is not exactly accurate. We've got a couple of nineteen-year-old Kong toys rolling around here. Something that durable and dog-popular is well worth six or ten bucks.

And the farm itself fulfills all the in jokes among stockdog folk about quarter-million-dollar dog toys.

But seriously, I'm going to spend north of $20 for one of these --

When the world is already littered with these

for the sum of $0?

And when it's played, I can toss it in the recycling bin having already accomplished the "re-use" portion of the three R's.

We do a lot of re-using around the farm. The junk and discards of previous owners have outlived their tenancies. Half of getting any repair or improvement done around here is remembering where I saw that perfect-sized board or strange metal bracket or honk of chain.

The hens pay their rent in a rusty but still serviceable 8-hole galvanized nest box that I found behind the pole barn when we moved in. Savings over $100 right there. The sheet metal from the defunct above-ground pool is being portioned off as roofing for animal housing, while the pool cover makes a dandy woodpile tarp and the steel side braces are the perfect size for meat bird feed troughs when outfitted with end caps/legs made from the sound bits of roofing that we cut off with the rotted parts from the barn last fall.

One leftover that I've found rather unsatisfactory is the hay rack in the goats' barn stall. It was designed for horses, and allows the persnickety goats to waste a lot of hay. And it's not really big enough for our current caprine population of six.

Anyway, the herd is summering in the northeast pasture, well away from the barn. They have a portion of the woodshed for shelter, and I've commandeered another section as an open-air milking shed, adding some wire shelves (one recycled, one liberated from a failed video store's dumpster) and a sturdy closed cupboard, bought for about six bucks at the coolest store ever.

The milking stand, which appears quite ancient, served the last owners as the step-in platform for the defunct above-ground pool. Before it was that, it was ... a milking stand. I had to improvise a new headstall for it, but there was plenty of scrap plywood from our barn roof renovations.

The goats now needed a hayrack for their portion of the shed.

So I looked online for plans for a home-made hay rack, and didn't find anything that appealed. Most of the plans seemed excessively fussy. I really don't expect the hay rack to function, say, 5,000 feet below the ocean surface. Dovetailed joints are nice in a dresser drawer, but really I was just hoping it would be sturdy, resist goat abuse, and minimize gratuitous hay waste. (Goats like to cherry-pick their roughage, and are afraid that once the hay touches the ground, it is rendered inedible.)

So I went out and wandered around the woodshed, pole barn, and both levels of the real barn. Also behind the pole barn and in the basement. Looking for materials that might say "hayrack" to me.

Came up with a small section of semi-rigid welded-wire cattle panel left over from construction of the foster kennel last year. A selection of scrap 2x4. And some paneling scraps apparently left over from the construction of the pole barn itself.

Actually, there was a lot of other junk to choose from, but this is the stuff that made the final cut.

Here's the finished rack, installed in the woodshed:

Note that the horizontal wire spacing is much closer on the edge of the panel that I have placed downward in the finished rack. This is perfect for hay conservation. Hog panel, with its small square openings, would also have worked very well for the face of the rack.

The cut piece of panel had 8" lengths of the horizontal cross-wires on both ends. This was perfect for my plan to over-engineer the beast for enhanced goat-resistance. I started by taking two lengths of 2x4 that were a little longer than the cattle panel was high. I lined up each 2x4 with the jabby ends, marked where each wire lined up, and drilled what, eleven holes along the midline of each 2x4, corresponding to each wire end.

Then I jammed and whacked and cajoled each 2x4 onto the cattle panel.

I leaned the panel with its stabilizing wooden ends against the wall of the barn until the angle looked about right to me. Measured the height and the depth at the top end.

Cut the appropriately-sized rectangle out of the soundest part of the scrap paneling, then cut it into two triangles, corner to corner.

Marked the location of each pokey horizontal wire on the hypotenuse of each triangular panel, and drilled holes. Jammed and whacked and cajoled each end panel onto the cattle panel. I also reinforced the longer leg of one triangle with a length of scrap because the panel was chipping there.

Then I hammered the the living crap out of the cross wires so they flattened out to hold the end panels and the structural 2x4's onto the cattle panel

Trimmed the squared-off bottom ends of the 2x4's to follow the angle of the end panels.

Trimmed two 2x4's and screwed them on to the hypotenuse 2x4's as structural components of the top, the short leg of the right triangle.

Grabbed two more scrap ends of 2x4 and carted the whole assembly over to the woodshed.

Eyeballed how high I wanted the rack. Goats like to eat "up," and they will squander more hay if the rack is low, so I mounted it pretty high. (Note: Don't do this if you have goats or sheep with horns. That's a good way to hang an animal and kill it. In fact, if your stock has horns, don't use a rack design that has horizontal elements at all -- use vertical slats positioned such that your shortest horned animal could stand flat-footed with its head caught in the rack. And buy a disbudding tool, seriously.) I screwed one of the 2x4's onto the wall where I wanted the bottom of the rack, leveled it, and added more screws. This made it possible to mount the rather heavy rack without help -- just rested the bottom of the wire on the 2x4 and propped a shepherd's crook to hold the rack against the wall.

Screwed the rack on with deck brackets at the top, angled 3" screws at the bottom.

I added the second piece of scrap about 8" below the bottom of the feeder, so the kids would have something solid to brace on when they stand up to feed.

Purchased parts for this project -- approximately 20 screws and two right-angle brackets. Maybe $1.00 worth of hardware. It was all stuff I had in the workshop already, but not recycled or repurposed.

Construction time about 90 minutes. Took me longer to take the pictures, download them, and write this.

Retail cost of a commercially-made large, abuse-resistant, wall-mounted hay rack designed to prevent petulant goats from indulging in hay tantrums?

I dunno. I could find no such animal for sale.


  1. A thing of beauty and a work of art. America as God and goat intended. Nice.


  2. Great job! I always wondered why farmers saved all those bits and bobs. Now that we have a farm, I understand. Projects large and small crop up on a daily basis, and you know you have just the perfect bit of fencing/board/metal whathaveyou to solve the problem, provided you can locate it. Throwing stuff out then having to buy it again would be crazy making.

  3. When the apocalypse comes, I want to be on your team.

    Ok, there won't be teams, but you know what I mean.

  4. Dad's thrift -- I always understood it to be ludicrous miserliness -- came from not only being raised on a farm, but running one himself as a teenager. For a time, my grandparents operated their Fallbrook property while Dad -- and maybe Uncle Don, I'm not sure -- ran the Buena Park farm, the former growing citrus and avocado, the latter raising meat chickens. It explains why, when I was a kid, he used to have old coffee cans and jars full of screws, nails, and bolts, and odd bits of lumber, plexiglass, and screening cluttering the garage. Cars were something to be driven until they fell apart. ("A car is a tool," he told me before helping me pay for my first one. "Don't spin your wheels." They had enough vehicles on the Fallbrook ranch that the gasoline man came by every two weeks or so and filled up their above ground tank, rather than having to drive in to town for it, a cause for wonder then and now.)

    To this day, Dad is still a demon re-user, a collector of stuff that you look at and think, why? You can get that bolt at Home Depot for next to nothing. Not in Dad's mind.

    But then I look in my garage at all the scraps of red oak, maple, and purpleheart I haven't used in over a year. Huh.

  5. Utter waste of words, the first and last photo would have been sufficient.

    And, hypotenooses? On a farm? Do they reproduce?


  6. Saving the bolts and bits and bobs isn't as much about economy of money as it is about economy of time.

    If I've got the part right here when I need to fix/alter/make something, then the job gets done.

    If not, then not, or I have to make a special trip to the store. Which often as not is closed right when the need arises.

    Also, of course, in the old days you didn't throw stuff out because it's not like a man came in a big truck and made it go away. You had to cart it to the dump yourself, whether the town dump or the farm's own midden.

    Now, the "historic" middens here -- that's a topic for another day.

  7. A woman after my own heart. You know, one may apply much the same logic to kids (of the human variety, that is).

    My husband is very fond of pointing out that the best toy he ever had as a child was a stick.

    I love the water bottles for dogs and babies both. Baby Einstein, kiss my ass.

  8. Good job, we need more people who now how to reuse items. It really makes you wonder about our "throw away" society.
    As for best toys, how about the cartons any new huge item was packed in?

  9. I really like this, but the one I make will be for alpacas. Also, I like to turn the hay, so I think I will hinge the whole thing to the wall on one side, with a clasp on the other, so that I can open it to the side. I'll build the bottom out a bit (4--6"?) just so the hay doesn't slide right out when I open it. Any thoughts? ---Gwen Baggett, TN

  10. Hej from Sweden,
    What a beautiful hay rack! We have goats also and have horse hay racks up which number 1 the little goat heads can go right into the hay through the bars, number 2, the hay falls out way too often just wasting the hay. I like your grid idea. No my husband will be looking for materials to either place in hay racks or around the racks to have smaller openings for little mouths to get to the hay.
    Welcome to my blog and see my goats:
    Love your goat hay rack!

  11. Nick from NZ
    Well done, good on you! Love the ideas behind the way you work.


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