Building a Pole Barn Part 2

Following on from our first page about building our own barn we have started constructing the piers to support the upright timbers that will form the barn uprights. As previously described these footings have had to be a substantial depth in places to get down below the in-filled ground where we are building the barn.

New shuttering
The first job was to construct some shuttering. In this case I used the cheapest timber I could find (which turned out to be T&G pine cladding). This certainly wouldn’t be strong enough for professional use; but hopefully will last to build 8 piers.

I decided to construct the deepest pier first and will then cut the shuttering down as we progress to the smaller ones. So the shuttering was carefully placed in the first hole on the concrete pad, ensuring that the centre of the shuttering in the hole would be 4m from the next. The shuttering was then given extra support with some soil around the base and bits of wood wedged between it and the sides of the hole. Liz gave the inside of the timber a coating of Aldi’s cheapest cooking oil to help stop the shuttering sticking. I then proceeded to fill it with concrete. I put some steel mesh (that I had left over here) in the centre (ensuring 50mm concrete cover to ensure that it wouldn’t cause the concrete to spall if it rusts). As I filled the shutter with concrete I used a thin stick to ‘poker’ the concrete to remove air bubbles etc.

Concrete column
Concrete pier constructed off the concrete pads we put in the bottom of the hole first. The piers have steel reinforcement and a galvanised strap set in the top to anchor the wooden barn columns.

I set a small marker pin in the top in the exact centre to help with measuring to the other columns and also set a galvanised steel strap in the top of the column exactly 100mm from the centre. This strap should(!) be in the correct place to anchor the 200mm square timber uprights I’m looking to use for the barn columns.

After 48 hours I unscrewed the shuttering and removed it to leave an impressive concrete foundation column going down nearly 2m. I reckon this should be adequate for what is after all a rather large garden shed!

Setting Out
Once we had the first column in place we then started to set out the next one by stringing a centre line through the rest of the holes along the back of the shed.

By running a string line and measuring we were then able to position the shuttering for the next column. However, we also had to ensure that the top of the concrete would finish level with the first (i.e. we are now having to work in 3 dimensions). Lacking an expensive laser level I bought a cheap water level off Ebay for a few pounds and used this old fashioned technology to get the columns level. By putting the shuttering in upside down first I could measure how much to cut off the bottom before inverting it and repositioning and rechecking prior to concreting the second column. This process will be repeated until we have done all 8 columns.

Using a water level to determine the column levels
To show this clearly I am holding the level on the outside of the shuttering. The water level (coloured with a bit of food colouring) allows me to check that the top of the shuttering is exactly the same height as the first column.

Disclaimer; I am not a structural engineer or a builder so the whole project is more ‘belt and braces’ than calculations and you should not rely on my design for your own building!

Continue to Part 3



Building a Pole Barn Part 1

One of our projects on the smallholding is to construct a barn for storing logs and implements etc. I’ve looked at commercial barns etc. and decided that in light of the cost (especially as we are planning to undertake some expensive changes to the house as well) we will build this ourselves. Disclaimer; I am not a structural engineer or a builder so the whole project is more ‘belt and braces’ than calculations and you should not rely on my design for your own building!

Originally I was was thinking about building a simple pole barn from old telegraph poles and I scoured the internet for plans. In actual fact there isn’t much available in the UK with most information being in the USA. In particular I came across the Barn Construction Resource Centre which had some nicely constructed barns. As a consequence I decided to go more down this route. Hopefully building something that looks a tad more pleasing to the eye. Hence why the title is about a pole barn but the structure is more of a ‘cut frame’. However, the same technique could be applied and could be simplified by just putting the poles straight into the ground. Not an option in my case because of the ‘landfilled ground’ where I am building it.

The first thing was to check the planning situation and to ensure that it would fall within permitted agricultural development. So the first job was to contact the local planning department and submit an ‘Application for Prior Notification of Proposed Agricultural Development’. For this you need to submit 4 copies of the application form, describing the size and type of the building, together with 4 copies of the plans showing the extent of your land and the location of the proposed building. You don’t need detailed plans of the building. The council then has 28 days to confirm that the proposal doesn’t need Planning Permission (or otherwise). In my case I got a letter after about 6 weeks saying that it was permitted development and that I didn’t need planning permission.

Although I knew roughly the size I was going to build the next stage was to come up with some more detailed construction plans. So using the American site above I roughed out some plans for a monopitch barn with an overhang on the front that would be about 12m long by 6m wide with 3 bays. As the plans are going to evolve as ‘I work things out’ I’ve put small copies of my initial thoughts here and hope to put better and bigger plans together with construction details as I progress. Hopefully I may by then have ironed out any snags if anyone else wants to have a go!

Barn Plans
The ‘rough idea’ of how things will look. I’ll add bigger more detailed plans at a later stage once I know things are going vaguely according to my ideas!

The land I am building this on was quite low and has been filled with rubble. As a consequence the soil is not ideal for foundations; so the plan is to level the top then dig eight holes down to firmer subsoil with an excavator. I will then pour a concrete pad at the bottom of each hole approx 150mm thick. Once this has cured I will form shuttering on top of the pad to pour concrete pillars that will finish approx 150mm or so above ground level. These concrete piers will have to all be perfectly level and in the correct place as the wood columns of the barn will then be built off these. This section of photo from one of the barns on the above site shows you the idea.

Concrete Piers for Barn
Concrete Piers for Barn. As these go down below the infill to solid ground the barn should remain stable. Once the land has settled for a few years the level can be made up with stone or even concrete.

So last weekend end a neighbour came over with his JCB and scraped the land level. We then carefully marked where the columns would be; checking it was square by ensuring that the diagonals were the same distance apart. We then dug out each hole; the back ones had to be quite deep to get down to solid ground. In fact the deepest are around 2m deep!

Barn Foundations
The land levelled, holes dug and concrete pads at the bottom of each hole. We will then construct concrete piers off each pad in exactly the right place for the barn uprights. I’ll probably put a bit of steel mesh (some lying around somewhere!) for extra reinforcement in these.

Then this weekend I hired a mixer and got a couple of tons of ‘all in’ sand and gravel delivered and, with the help of our son who was visiting us for Easter mixed, enough concrete to fill the bottom of each hole to a depth of at least 150mm. Before tipping the concrete in we jumped in and cleaned the loose fill out by hand ensuring a nice firm base for the concrete.

Jonathan gets to spend an exciting Easter in a hole when he visited his parents! The holes at the back are nearly 2m deep so dad got sent down those.

The next stage will be to shutter the concrete piers of these pads and concrete these. I’ll try and keep you posted as we go!

Mixing Concrete
John and Jonathan mix concrete. The container, in the background, is a recent arrival in preparation for storing materials when we do the building work on the house. Once that is done it will probably be moved to sit alongside the barn to provide secure storage.

Go to part 2 to learn more


Fencing and Cutting Back Overgrown Hedges

One of the tasks that had to be done after planting our new woodland was fencing the area to prevent stock getting in amongst the trees and eating them. So in the last week or so we have had contractors here cutting back the overhanging trees and hedge and installing some new fencing and gates.

Post and wire fence
The New Fence runs up past the established wood and fences off some of the newly planted wood. We have put in metal gates for easy access in the future.

The contractor was hoping to be able to use his tracked post hole knocker for most of the work but the slopes and wet land conspired to make this a bit problematic. So some of the fencing work had to be done by hand. We also have a bit of ‘making good’ to do with the pasture once the land dries out a bit..

Agricultural Fencing
We have a bit of pasture to reseed etc. We thought we might try putting a Barn Owl box on the tree that we had to cut a large branch off.

We also took the opportunity to fence around the spring that feeds our house water supply. It is good practice to do this to prevent the possibility of animals fouling the supply. Also this area should become quite wild and overgrown providing a moist habitat for insects and animals etc.

Fence around water Supply
Our new fence around water supply to keep out the pathogens!

Ino Flail Mower Arrives

Having bought the right tractor (AGT 850) to work on our steep slopes it was necessary to get a mower/topper to deal with the overgrown grass, bracken and rushes on the land. At this stage things are not too bad, but the land has been let go for a while and if not tackled soon the pasture will start reverting to being overgrown with bracken and scrub etc..

Flail mower
John with the INO MMT Flail Mower on the AGT 850 Tractor

First decision was whether to get a rotary mower (less expensive) or a flail mower. The former is more usually used for simple pasture topping the later for ‘chewing’ up scrub and bracken. The former is generally much cheaper (and uses less fuel). However, the need to deal with some bracken and thick grass meant that I thought the later would be more suited (and also have better weight distribution when attached to the tractor on the steep land). The next question was what make to buy? There are numerous models out there; many now made in China some with what can only be described as ‘chocolate’ gearboxes. Good second hand flail mowers rarely come on the market and often the bearings and gearboxes have had a thrashing; hence it was a case of buying new again for this key bit of equipment

I settled on an INO flail mower which are made in Slovenia by a company that has been going for 20 years or so (they are also rebadged by other manufacturers in the UK and sold under their own trade names).

I purchased it directly from the importers (Willow Farm Machinery) who shipped it by carrier. Unfortunately the carrier’s lorry was too large to get down our lane! After some lateral thinking the driver delivered to a nearby agricultural dealer who kindly brought it here on a trailer for a small reward (drink!).

After hitching up to the AGT I had to cut down the PTO shaft which was too long; greased the bearings and off I went. We have had a particularly dry spell which is ideal (as working on our slopes in the wet could be suicidal!). The tractor and mower coped admirably on even the steepest bits. However, turning at the top of the steepest slopes looked a tad dangerous – so I dealt with these by reversing up and then mowing coming down. I did notice one or two local farmers slowing down on the road below to see what I was up to; most seem quite intrigued to see an Alpine tractor rather than a traditional tractor!

Once all the land has been topped (I didn’t get it all finished due to it turning wet) I shall use some Asulox spray to treat the worst areas of bracken as they start to regrow and probably also spray some of the rushes with Headland Polo. Once this has been done (perhaps a couple of times) I should not need to use chemicals much with an annual top with the flail keeping things under control.


Working on the Land

Since arriving here in Carmarthenshire last November we’ve been taking our time to decide what to do with things. We do not plan to actively farm our smallholding but to get the land back into shape before perhaps letting the pasture for sheep, creating some more woodland and harvesting the wood from our established woodland.

The Newly Cut Back Boundary and Repaired Fence

During January and February John spent some time with our adjoining neighbour cutting back the overgrown branches and mending the fences as the existing posts were breaking off. During March we have had such a long spell of dry warm weather that we started cutting up the timber and burning the brash.

Liz 'poses' with the Chainsaw (Wot no protective trousers or gloves?)
John Gets the Fire Going (eventually!)

We did get quite distracted watching the Buzzards and Red Kites circling above us in the valley.

Our House Down in the Valley Below

Alpine Tractor AGT 850

When we moved here we were hoping that we could use a normal second hand tractor like an old Massey Ferguson 35 or 135. Failing that a small 4 wheel drive might have been suitable. However, our land (17 acres of pasture and 6 acres of wood) really is very steep. The farmer who used to own it told us that he had had a few ‘incidents’ with a tractor on the land! John thus decided that buying the special tool for the job (even with the extra cost) was the better part of valour! Working a tractor on steep hills is one of the biggest causes of fatalities on the land and he has no plans to shorten his retirement unnecessarily.

AGT 850
At least the brakes work!

This led us to undertake a lot of research an eventually we settled on buying an ‘Alpine tractor’. This type of tractor with it’s low centre of gravity and with the engine weight over the front axle is very popular on small hilly family farms in Italy and Switzerland. They are not used much in the UK and indeed many farmers have advised us not to buy one as ‘they are an unknown quantity’. Actually their mechanical simplicity was a plus point for us in that any decent mechanic should be able to repair it without needing to plug his computer in or have access to the service error codes.

The downside is that they are very expensive (for what they are) and second hand ones do not come on the market very often. Thus our new AGT 850T was delivered today. This is the ‘non articulated’ version of the tractor; i.e. it does not bend in the middle (although the two axles can pivot in the horizontal plane for better traction). We’ve also specified wider and lower tyres and set them as wide as possible to give maximum stability. The engine is a 48 hp Lombardini engine. It has 12 gears and a shuttle box. The driving position is reversible so that you can swing the seat and controls round to face the other direction. This means that you can face forward with some implements. It has a single and a double spool valve on the hydraulic side of things.

As there is not much user information on the internet we are hoping that this blog will become a little review over time. As we use it more we will add information and give details of it’s performance and reliability etc.

Anyway we unloaded the red tractor today and  after filling it up with red diesel John took it for a spin up some of our ‘lesser’ slopes. It seemed to cope with things pretty well. We’re hoping to get a pasture topper, transport box and set of chain harrows in due course.

Another reason for choosing this tractor is that we will need to get up into our wood to start pulling out fallen trees. This tractor will hopefully be ideal for working in such an environment on the side of a slope. A number of people use them with a forwarding winch for extracting wood out of forestry land.

As said we’ll keep the blog updated with how we get on with this machine.