Last year, 2013, I built this shelter house for our miniature donkeys. And wouldn’t you know it, the very first year we have miniature donkeys on the farm we get hit with the worst winter in years and years. Temperatures as low as 15 degrees below zero!
Finnegan and Fergus did fine with lots and lots of straw in their little house, but I promised them I’d build them a warmer house for next winter. So here it is . . .
I started by digging below grade, into a dirt/bush pile that was already next to the donkey pen. In the nursery business we are well aware of the benefit of ground heat, so I knew that if I could get the donkeys a little below grade they benefit from the natural heat in the ground. You can see the old donkey house off the left.
I made the outside walls with tongue and groove two by six treated wood. You can see how much of this donkey house is going to be protected from the wind. That was one of my goals, to keep the structure out of the wind as much as possible. If the wind can’t hit the structure, it really can’t penetrate it as easily.
And of course being below grade there will be a downhill slope into the donkey house so some drainage will be need just in case water does get in.
Once in place I covered the perforated drainage pipe with washed stone so water can actually find its way into the pipe. Eventually I covered the entire floor of the donkey house with washed stone and over that installed rubber stall mats. That’s serves as kind of a capillary system where any water that reaches the front door of the donkey house has a chance to get under the stall mats and find its way to the drain pipe.
Of course that drain pipe will eventually lay almost flat in a trench running away from the structure with a small amount of fall away from the structure. Right now the pipe is sticking straight up. Obviously that won’t work!
The open of this donkey shelter is to the south-east. The prevailing winter winds are almost always from the northwest. The dirt/brush pile will lift those winds up and over the donkey shelter. This is the finished height of the walls. The back wall is actually lower than the dirt/brush pile.
I dug this trench away from the shelter, put a few inches of washed stone in the bottom of the trench, laid the perforated plastic pipe over the stone and completely covered the pipe with more stone before back filling the trench. The soil here is all sand and gravel, it drains really well, so all I have to do is give any water that gets into the shelter a way to get into this perforated pipe and it will seep into the ground pretty quickly.
I decided to put a window in this shelter so it would still be light in there once the curtain door was installed. And if I ever felt the need to put on a real door and close them in during really bad weather they’d still have some light. But I’m pretty sure that will never happen. Most of the time they are outside during daylight hours. When it’s cold or rainy I feed them in their old house so the hay stays dry. So they spend most of their time in the old house while it’s daylight, even if it’s really cold out. They’re pretty tough cookies!
For the window I just put two by two’s inside of the frame then installed a double layer of plexiglass on each side with a silicone seal. Worked pretty well and they pretty much ignore the window so should stay intact.
The ground slopes toward the door so I installed another french drain right in front of the door so any water that collects there has a way to escape.
I forgot to take pictures but the inside of the house is lined with untreated OSB and there is R19 insulation in the ceiling and the walls. Eventually this west wall will be protected from the wind on the outside with some bagged leaves. By next winter that area will be all grown up with vegetation. You’d be amazed at what a difference just the vegetation makes as an insulator on the outside.
Notice that the actual opening is only about 3′ high and 18″ wide? Just big enough for the donkeys to get through. I made the curtain door out of nylon rope cut into lengths, I had to melt the cut ends with a torch to keep the rope from unraveling. The end of the rope is actually clamped between a piece of steel channel and a second piece of flat steel with five bolts pinching the ropes tightly so the donkeys can’t pull the ropes out. One curtain door still left a few openings so I added a second door over top of the first.
This door actually holds in some of the heat, but it also breaks the wind. Very little if any wind makes it through the door.
With lots of straw and two donkeys making body heat it actually stays a lot warmer in this shelter because it’s designed to not give up any heat that might be in there. There is no heat source, just ground heat and heat from the donkeys. I have thermometer in the house and I’ve never been able to check it with them in the house because they are always up before I get out there. But when it’s close to zero outside, it’s still close to 20 degrees inside the shelter. That’s plenty warm enough for them with no wind and being nice and dry.
Last winter when it was so cold I worried about them a lot. This winter I don’t. I know this house is warmer for them.