Doing it ourselves when we can
The economics of building a ranch led us to take a few projects into our own hands.
The economics of building a ranch led us to take a few projects into our own hands.
When we signed the contract to purchase 53 acres near Pie Town, New Mexico, one year ago, we knew we were embarking on an adventure, but we had little idea of where it would lead. We’d found a secluded property with 360-degree mountain views and rolling hills covered with grama grass and studded with pinyon and juniper trees. No other horse property we visited could compare with its pristine beauty, and after much thought, we decided to take the plunge and start from scratch.
It wasn’t long into the process that we realized how much it would cost to hire a contractor to construct outbuildings, such as a horse barn or hay storage shed, complete with cement slabs. My husband Kenny has a background in building and engineering, so we decided to see how much of the work we could do ourselves. Our first major investment toward this new goal was a tractor with a front-end loader and backhoe, along with a number of accessories. The Mahindra 3540 has quickly proven its worth for clearing brush and trees, grading and trenching, among myriad other uses.
One year later, we have accomplished several things. Our perimeter fencing is in place---for this we used an outside contractor. We will determine our interior fencing as we go along. In the meantime, we’ve put up portable electric fencing to keep curious horses out of the construction area. We also recently invested in 10-foot panels to use for individual feeding pens. Made by Tarter, they are sturdy yet easily relocated.
In addition, our solar well is now nearly ready to go. The well itself is dug, and, with the help of some neighbors, Kenny got the pump up and running off a single solar panel leaning against t-posts. Several weeks later the tracker, which maximizes the power generation by directing solar panels toward the sun, showed up. The final piece will be an automatic shutoff valve to prevent overflow. For now, the four ponies in residence enjoy clean, fresh water from a 750-gallon metal tank.
Finally, and perhaps most exciting at least in terms of the prospect of our own creature comforts, our doublewide Karsten manufactured home has been delivered and set up, though lots of internal work is still underway.
After a nearly two-month wait, our home was finally delivered in mid-July, just before the monsoon kicked in. The two “wide load” pieces barely scraped between trees across a couple of cattle guards, and Kenny was busy with the chainsaw during the final approach on our driveway.
An expert crew spent four days setting the foundation, then splicing the two pieces back together. A second crew arrived the following week to do the inside finishing work. We were very pleased with their attention to detail.
We plan to paint the house both inside and out. My first choices were a bit brash, so we are toning down the colors a bit. We’ve decided on “Taos blue” for the doors and a shade of adobe for the main house along with one other accent color for the window sashes and other trim.
In early August, we began bringing home some of the items from our
storage unit in Pie Town. It was hard to believe it was two years ago that we began the journey from my late mom’s house in southern California with a household full of furniture packed into a 26-foot U-Haul. Going into the storeroom was a bittersweet experience--memories of my parents were mixed with the excitement of setting up our new place. As things worked out, the storage unit was only 16 miles from our new ranch---albeit down a bumpy back road with curious horses, cattle and burros ranging freely on the road.
We were pleased with the arrival of three portable outbuildings: a 10- by 20-foot tack room; a 10- by 16-foot feed shed; and a 12- by 32-foot storage unit with roll-up door, all purchased from WeatherKing in Quemado, New Mexico. With these units in place, we can feed our horses and manage their tack more comfortably. We are also looking into purchasing a 30- by 40-foot metal all-purpose storage building with carport to keep the tractor out of the weather and to store feed and hay.
We are taking measures to make all buildings as waterproof and rodent-proof as possible. Along with mice and pack rats, this area is home to chipmunks, badgers and prairie dogs. We were delighted to discover a family of gopher snakes in residence. They hunt rodents and help keep rattlesnakes away.
As much progress as we’ve made, we still have many projects to tackle. Here are the main areas we’ll be focusing on:
• Electric, water, sewer and propane— Hookups must be in place before the state mobile home inspector will give the green light for power hookup.
We’ve had an electrical contractor as well as the local power cooperative lead technician out to our property. We have obtained a right-of-way easement and have received quotes for putting down about 420 feet of primary conduit from the power pole on the road to a transformer and 110 feet of the secondary line, plus 90 more feet from a pedestal to the house. Because it will be all underground, no more power poles will need to be constructed, preserving the mountain views.
• Water— We installed a 3,000gallon water cistern and a 550-gallon unit for portable use. Kenny is handling this himself, and the plan is to create a three-foot-deep trench to run one-inch PVC pipe about 1,000 feet from the well to the cisterns. A pump at the cisterns will pressurize the water for delivery to frost-free pumps at the house and horse tanks.
• Septic— Kenny must pass a test and submit a detailed site plan in order to get a license to install our own septic system. He is putting the finishing touches on the plan, which includes GPS coordinates for the septic field on a level area of 100 feet. We’ll be using a low-profile Norwesco 1,000-gallon septic tank, and the drain field will utilize chambers rather than septic rock and pipe.
• Skirting around base of house— This is required by the Mobile Home Division as well as the Rutter Ranch Subdivision covenants. We are going with stucco-finished Hardie plank with foam insulation. Skirting is also required to obtain property insurance.
• Insurance— A call to a regional insurance agent for manufactured homes revealed that having more than a horse or two on our property would require a separate liability policy. Horses are considered a high-risk item!
With so much to be done, we haven’t had a chance to ride much, but the four horses we have here are enjoying galloping, trotting and gaiting over the hills and appear super fit, both in mind and body. With their shiny coats and sleek muscles, they have never looked better. We learned one of the physiological reasons for their amazing appearance from Phil Ratliff, who paid a visit in late August to evaluate their oral health (only one of our horses needed a minor adjustment). The lower jaw or mandible “leads” the horse’s body wherever the horse travels. When he goes up and down hills and traverses uneven footing, including rocks and downed branches, the horse’s musculature responds accordingly in a way flatland ponies don’t experience. Such movement also keeps the horse’s dentition balanced, Ratliff explained. Our ponies needed very little in the way of dental work.
Realizing the fragile nature of the native grama grass and the need to limit the number of horses per acre, we decided to invest in additional land. We purchased 23 acres that connects our property with our friend Karl Phaler’s as well as a 15-acre tract across the road that has a solar well, 1,000-gallon cistern, storage shed, septic and partial fencing. It will be a perfect guest location for the future along with additional grazing for a few of our ponies. Both properties feature good hills and lots of lovely trees, with great views of the surrounding mountains.
While living so far from “civilization” is not for everyone, as we bump along on the dirt roads that lead to our piece of heaven on earth, we need only gaze at the mountains surrounding us, sweeping landscapes, ever-changing skies and happy horses running in the hills to know---we made the right choice.
Next: Back in Texas, winter reflections
Text and photographs by Bobbie Jo Lieberman
MOBILE MEALS: These 10-foot metal fence panels form individual feeding pens that can be relocated as needed.
WATERWAYS: The solar-powered well is nearly ready for service.
CHANGE OF ADDRESS: The double-wide manufactured home arrives.
SETTLED IN: Annakate and RC Flite seem to like their new pasture.