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Thinking outside the bin

Telephone poles and damaged grain bins turned into sturdy calf shelter

Used utility poles and damaged grain bins provided 
materials for this calving shelter.

Due to the ever-increasing prices of building materials, we try to always keep our eyes and our minds open to anything that can be repurposed. Our small herd of cows is growing and as it grows, we have to keep our facilities growing as well.

One thing we encountered this year, thanks to the lingering frigid temperatures and the terrible winds of February, was that we needed more shelter protection for our calving cows. We have a closed-in shed, a lean-to and lots of windbreaks but it wasn’t quite enough. We needed to increase our sheltered area to accommodate more calving cows.

My husband Gregory and his dad John decided to add on to the existing lean-to. They started first by using old telephone poles for the crossbeams and standing support poles at the front. The existing windbreak fence served as the back wall of the new shelter. They reinforced the windbreak by attaching standing upright 3x12s that John and his dad had salvaged from an old loading dock many years ago. Other planks were used across the top of the windbreak on the outside of the soon to be lean-to. With the heavy lumber used as stringers or rafters for the shelter ceiling, they used 4x4s to extend the railroad tie fence posts to hold up the 3x12s going across the top.

Next came the big question, what to use for the roof?

Over the years Gregory and John have salvaged many grain bins that have blown over or were just no longer needed by someone. They have used many of the good sections of the salvaged bins to fix grain bins that we use on the farm. While the pieces that were slightly bent or dented don’t work for grain bin repair, they work perfectly for a lean-to roof. The galvanized metal easily sheds water, and is a heavy enough gauge that it will hold a good amount of weight, yet not too heavy for the supported windbreak fence.

In order to flatten the pieces of grain bin metal, because they were still curved, John used his tractor. They lined the ribs of the tin up with the front tractor tire, put a piece of plywood under the tin on the far side, and then he slowly drove over the tin, pushing it flat. By lining up the ribs of the tin with the gaps in the tractor tire, the tin was not squashed and broken. Also, by putting the plywood under the end, the tin slid as John drove forward so it flattened instead of crushed.

For rafters for the ceiling, they screwed 2x10s that they salvaged from an old granary floor to the telephone pole cross members. The 2x10s were laid flat in order to provide more support as the pieces of now-flattened galvanized metal were screwed down to form the roof for the shelter.

The new addition is almost as long as the original lean-to and has provided us with more sheltered pen space for calving cows. Its kind of fun to think about how that old bin has been resurrected and now instead of keeping grain dry it will keep the calves dry, with any luck, for many years to come.

About the author


Heather Eppich is a young former Idaho rancher building a new farm and family with her husband and young son, near Handel, Sask. Contact her at: [email protected]



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