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Moving farm outbuildings

How to safely skid and lift small structures

By DAN KERR

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The structures, on our new rural property, were established for logging with farming as a side venture. This left us traveling back and forth adding many extra miles walking, or on the tractor, to accomplish daily tasks. Just the distance from the garden to the garden shed was over 300 feet. Forget a hoe and then decide you need more markers, and it’s not long before the miles add up.? It was a waste of time and energy. We needed a new organizational plan.

We wanted the chickens downwind from the house but still close. We wanted garden tools and implements near the garden. The dog kennel just had to go, and my wife wanted a cabin where we would get the best view. Then a neighbour offered to help move some of the structures on the property in exchange for one of the chicken coops.

We took our time laying out our ideas on paper, taking measurements and calculating spacing. We moved the first building in the fall, the second on frozen ground during the winter and the third the following summer.

How you move any building should be based on its construction and what’s easiest for your equipment. Some small structures are built to be moved. Others can be moved with some effort. The remainder can’t be moved without a lot of effort and expense and bits destroyed or left behind. In the case of farm outbuildings, with the exception of the main barns, most are in the first two categories, and many were designed and built to be moved.

The first structure we moved was originally designed for foresters, built to be skidded, many times, from place to place. The skidding timbers are ten inches square. They also form the foundation, with the entire building constructed and bolted to them. The two skids protrude about twenty inches out the front and back. They are ski shaped and have holes drilled horizontally through them.

When we were considering if we could move this building we first ensured the skids were in good condition, with no rot. We checked the overall wellness of the building, made sure it wasn’t stuck or frozen into the ground and examined the chain and hooks for weak areas.?The assessment took hours while the move was done in minutes.

The chain was looped through both holes and hooked to the tractor. As a double check for safety, a plank was nailed between the skids to ensure they didn’t cinch in.

We try to move this type of building only when the ground is frozen or at least hard. We work slowly. We ensured everything, including the dogs, were well out of the way in case something, such as a nail, let go or went wrong.

When it comes to tractors moving buildings we think, “More power.” Our own tractor was under powered for this job. We traded favours with a neighbouring dairy farm knowing it’s better to use a bigger and heavier tractor with the potential to pull the building apart than to be underpowered. We never attempt to move any weight without the equipment to do it safely. This is the same principle as towing a hay wagon. No matter what the terrain or incline, the tractor must have the horses and mass to start to pull and then stop with the weight. The risk is greatest on slopes.

In the second category we had two different styles of chicken sheds. These were not designed for moving but also were not on permanent foundations so they could be moved. Since the chicken pen was not designed with the concept of movement it is unwise to drag it. I decided to load it onto a hay wagon. The building was twelve feet square and we estimated the weight at about one thousand pounds. We used two tractors. The first was a 65 hp. 4×4. The second was a hundred hp. 4×4 tractor. Both were equipped with loaders and skid forks. This provided ample power and more, just in case. The challenge is to lift the building straight up and not to allow it to bend or twist as it elevates; then in our case, move it out to allow the hay wagon to be rolled under it. The largest tractor should be going ahead while the smaller one backing. This means the smaller tractor is placed in neutral and the larger tractor actually pushes it backwards. This prevents the building from slipping off the forks. The building was secured in place on the wagon and a heavy tie- down strap was used to hold both together while the building was towed down the road. The process was reversed to lift it down.

The third building was constructed as a trapper shack. It was designed for use on crown land and moved when necessary by placing it on timbers and skidding it. We had several concerns to address. First, we don’t own a skidder. Second the skidding timbers were not left under the structure and finally, there was limited room for maneuvering. We had only one option. We needed Mother Nature’s assistance in the form of snow so we could drag it across slippery ground.

The first attempt to drag the trapper shack with the sixty-five hp. 4×4 tractor simply didn’t work. We had steering issues. The building couldn’t drag and turn.

The next idea was the use of the log skidder attachment on the same tractor. The tractor was placed approximately where I wanted the building and the skidder planted firmly into the ground. The cable was drawn out and around the building and hooked over top of two nails I had driven into the far side bottom corners to hold the cable up onto the building. Once around the building the cable was hooked onto itself and then the winching process began. The building was successfully moved, then the tractor repositioned and the building was adjusted into spot. It helps to have a big tractor, however, big doesn’t mean that all is totally safe.

Lifting a building, at any time, requires excellent communication. Use walkie talkies or establish hand singles before you start. Maintain eye contact with your partner throughout the moving process. Remove any thing, such as dogs, that could cause distraction or cause you to lose your focus.

In addition to all the standard hazards of moving any heavy load, there are many unknowns — the condition of the under floor, what’s? under the building. You must work slowly and cautiously. If a wheel sinks during the lifting or moving process the entire load and tractor can wind up on its side. When towing, the weight of the item being towed is transferred to the rear axle of the tractor and the forward motion of the tractor causes torque onto the rear axle. The combination of too much drag and lots of power can cause a tractor to lift its front end off the ground. If not disengaged in time, it can perform a one hundred and eighty degree wheelie landing upside down, which could ruin your day if not your life. If you are expecting to tow the building down a decline, there is the danger of being over taken by the building causing a loss of control. Inclines can also result in the same wheelie roll over if there’s too much drag. If you don’t own a skidder attachment, rent, borrow or buy one before moving a building on an incline. By using the skidder attachment, we side stepped all of these situations as the drag is transferred directly to the bottom of the skidder attachment which is buried in the ground. Whether towed directly by the tractor with chains/cables etc. or pulled by a skidder attachment, the danger here is the possibility of the hooks, chains, chain links or cables breaking or coming apart. One should always be watchful, and stay clear or at least behind something while winching.

The neighbour sent over fresh eggs not long after he put his newly acquired chicken shed on wooden blocks.? I dug out under the corners of our trapper shack, placed pads and concrete blocks under it as a foundation, built a new ramp for the entrance and gave the whole thing some paint. My wife now has a new garden shed in the corner of her garden, I have more room in the tool shed, and we are all conserving energy with fewer steps and less driving.