Wonderful things, hog panels....
They came into my life last summer. The sheep had been here for maybe a week when the weather report said "wind and rain" the following morning. Of course, by midnight the rain was such a downpour I couldn't see out my bedroom window. The sheep were only 20-30 feet from the house, and I couldn't see them. Then the wind started. At first I went back to bed, trying to convince myself that the Coleman rain and wind shelter I had set up would be in its place the next morning. But I knew better. In reality, it would probably fly off, slam against the electric fence and knock it down. And all the sheep-eating monsters that dwell in the woods would come drooling toward my helpless flock.
So, out of bed, mentally prepare to get drenched, and drag my 10'x10' farmers' market tent from the garage to the paddock where the sheep were. They are sold as "easy up", those tents and they are easy to set up with four people. What do you do when 3 of the 4 are sheep?
Well, I did get that thing set up but it took an awful lot of grunting and pushing and grunting some more. The sheep had run out into the rain by then, less concerned about getting wet and really worried about my mental state. You can't misinterpret Matilda's "Oh my God" face for anything else.
Once the shelter was up and the crazed human was safely out of the paddock, they went inside gratefully. And I took a hot shower and fell into bed. By the following morning, when the storm was supposed to arrive, it had already left. I had a 10'x10' easy-up tent to take down and put away.
That is when I had my very first epiphany about hog panels: Why not clip together four of them to make a 3-sided shelter with a fourth panel for a roof, and stretch a tarp over the roof, tying it down to the wire on the side walls with bungee cords?
Off to the Greenfield Farmers Coop Exchange, filled with the spirit of discovery, and bought two 16-footers. There were two young men at the loading area. When they found out what I was planning to do with the hog panels, they said I would need to cut them in half. Oh wow! Did I instantly discover a talent for looking clueless. I marveled what a great idea that was! Didn't mention the heavy-duty wire cutters that I had already set out. Or the two 2"x4" boards I had cut to a 10-foot length to slide on top of the shelter to prevent the hog panel on top from sagging down. (These boards have notches at each end, and I wedge them against the top of the panel. That way, when I need to move the shelter, I don't have to untie anything.)
I left the Farmers' Coop with the panels cut in half and loaded onto my truck, and with two young men standing tall on the loading dock, so very proud of themselves. It was a good start for everyone's day.
Our hog panel shelter has been great since then. It is portable - just unclip the carabiner clips holding the sides together (2 clips at each "hinge" wall). You can also use plastic zip-ties and just cut them when you want to take the shelter apart. You then have four 8-foot panels to drag to a new place, and I can drag all of them at the same time. They are a bit heavy but quite manageable.If you don't mind carrying all 3 sides together, Premier One Supplies makes a great spiral hinge that will connect panels together and allow folding.
With this design, you can hang trough feeders and hay feeders from the walls, but you may have to devise ways to keep them from tilting down. (Feeders come with U-shaped hook-overs but the wires of cattle panels are thin, so you need to deal with that space.)
If you wanted your shelter to be even less work (and you have only 2-3 small sheep), you could construct an A-frame shelter with just two panels clipped together at the top. The bottom can be stabilized with 2 - 3 good-sized rocks resting against the panel on the outside, and 2x4's cut to the size of the opening, resting on the ground at each end, and lashed to the panels.
Some folks will drive 2 metal T-posts into the ground, jam one of the short edges of a panel against the T-posts, bend the panel to the height they want, and drive 2 more T-posts at the other end to keep the second short edge of the panel where they want. Then they lash the posts and the panel together. You can keep coming forward with additional panels to make a deeper and larger shelter this way. However, this design is not easily movable, and it takes two people to construct. It is finished, of course, with a tarp over the top, secured well at the bottom. Sheep will play "King of the Mountain" with this shelter and tear the tarp where they try to climb up the sides. And the back of the shelter will have a lot of excess tarp material that you have to pleat and tuck in to keep from flapping around.
By the way: a hard-earned tip for extending the life of your tarp when it is stretched over hog panels: The wire edges where the original panel has been cut in half are sharp. They poke holes into the tarp. To get around this problem, I got myself a length of 3/4-inch plastic tubing, slit it lengthwise, and slipped the tubing over the wire edges. The slit keeps it in place pretty effectively, and no more holes in the tarp.
With this triumphant introduction to hog panels, I have not stopped inventing new uses for them since that first midnight madness under the rain:
Livestock farmers always worry about predators. You read about the herculean tasks that are needed for keeping out the coyotes - for example, digging down into the soil around the animal housing and continuing to dig 2 feet out so you can bury woven wire under the area you dug out. The reason for doing this is that a coyote can't dig through the wire. Unfortunately, I can't dig a hundred-foot length of trench a foot deep and two feet wide either. Maybe you can. Or you can cut - yes, you guessed it - hog panels to size (do look around and see who is at the loading dock before you start cutting them yourself), lay them down around your barn yard or chicken coop, overlap them at the corners and secure them with u-shaped landscape cleats. Or even heavy rocks. Fabulously secure and easy to remove if you ever want to. Plus, once the grass grows through the panel you won't even see it.
Need to transport your sheep? We did this last March, when the sheep were moving to my friend Roberta's sheep barn after I broke my ankle. The ewes were pregnant and needed someone to be on hand. We made a box out of our half-length hog panels on the back of the truck, fixed a couple of boards for a ramp and pulled and pushed until we got Tillie and her big butt loaded in. Everybody else fell over each other to follow the leader, and once they were on, we quickly fixed the fourth panel against the tail gate, like a door. Of course, our panels are 8 feet in length. Which meant that the back panel was standing on its short side, and sticking up in the air above the truck by about 5 feet. Louie (my partner) thought that was a problem. As far as I could see, it didn't hurt anything. In fact, it grazed against some evergreens on the way and the sheep got some nice goodies from the sky. Literally. Next time we transport sheep in the truck, I am thinking of tying a sheep flag to that back panel. It would flutter in the wind to fill any shepherd's heart with pride and joy.
On a per-running-foot basis, a perimeter fence made of hog panels and metal posts would be a lot less money and less work than a so-called a "real" perimeter fence. Are my hog panels gossamer dreams, I wonder? They feel pretty real to me. So I think I am going to set up a hog panel perimeter fence around my 1-acre wooded area, where putting up electric fencing would lead me to tear my clothes and run into the forest screaming obscenities, to become one of the sheep-eating monsters that come drooling out on dark and windy nights....
And then there are the livestock gates. They are expensive. A four-foot gate is about $40. A four-foot length of hog panel is around $6.50. I have a winter paddock so the sheep can get some exercise during our cold Northeast winter months. I didn't want to spend that kind of money for a gate. So now I have a hog-panel gate that is tied to the cedar fence posts where the "real" gate was supposed to go. On one side, the panel is tied at three places. With baling twine. That is our top-of-the-line hinge. Premier's spiral hinge has nothing on it. On the other side it is tied to the fence post only in the middle. That is our latch. Works. Works perfectly. And the panel visually disappears against the grass and trees, where a real livestock gate would stick out in full galvanized glory.
Oh, and... Lambing jugs. Same principle as the shelter and the gate idea right above. The ewes can see each other, you can keep an eye on things from a distance and the jug is a cinch to set up and take down. The ewes also like to use the ends of the panels to scratch their butts -- preferably at midnight, and right next to the baby monitor, so you are in no danger of forgetting to check on the moms-to-be when the onset of labor is near.
I am sure I will continue to find more ways to re-purpose hog panels as I keep up my shepherding. What a wonderful, multi-tasking, no-skill and no-tool invention they are! A girl's best friend.