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

SET­TLED IN: An­nakate and RC Flite seem to like their new pas­ture.

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.

Text and pho­to­graphs by Bob­bie Jo Lieber­man

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