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ANIMALS SET TONE OF NEW HOME

When Frank and Denning Antonucci thought of most barns, they thought of dank places where the animals lived in the dark. Places where they didn't think their animals would like to live.

So the Town of Boston residents came up with their own kind of home for their collection of llamas, horses, chickens and barn cats -- a place where the animals can run free for the most part, and where glass block around the roofline and luminescent panels in the roof can let in the light.

The question was how do you build such a thing? There were no plans in the do-it-yourself section of the bookstore or even on the Internet.

So Frank, an Orchard Park financial planner, did it himself. From designing the building to cutting the trees on their Lower East Hill property. From dragging the trees across their 7-acre Moonridge Ranch to the building site to using a winch-and-pulley system to lodge them into place on the frame.

The Antonuccis said their motivation came from their animals. They said they didn't want them locked in something that seemed like a dungeon.

"We tried to pretend that we're an animal . . . I wouldn't want to live in a jail cell," said Frank. "You go to some of these horse barns, and you see these bars on the windows, and sometimes no windows. So we tried to create an openness and no bars."

The couple fenced their pastures so the animals could go in and out at will, with the horses kept away from the pond during the winter -- "so they won't go on the ice and fall in . . . the llamas are lighter, and smarter," said Frank.

The barn, 30 by 24 feet, is a study in the do-it-yourself ethos, from the unplaned logs in the walls to the rain barrel the Antonuccis plan to put in to help supply water to their animals.

Though Antonucci works a desk job by day, he said he wasn't intimidated by the job.

"Construction has always fascinated me. I like the smell of wood when you're cutting it," he said. "And everything is components. If you can see the pieces, you can see how they go together.

"Although I'm in my 50s building this, I should have my head examined!," he quipped. "If you add up the price of the lumber . . . if we had sold it, we probably should have cut the trees down, sold them and then bought the lumber!"

Denning said that would have forfeited the "indigenous character" of the structure.

Doing all of the work himself, Frank estimated the building cost just $3,000. It took just about a year, part time, and what Frank described as a "minor" herniated disk in his back.

Denning, a music teacher in the West Seneca schools, was concerned that her hands might have suffered some career-threatening nerve damage while helping assemble the structure.

"I developed a deep appreciation for what the pioneers went through when they would cut down trees and then hauled them for miles with horses," said Frank, who moved his with a tractor and a jeep.

The Antonuccis say the work was worth it, though. They feel they've created, on a small scale, an interactive homestead.

"Everything sort of has a symbiotic relationship," said Denning, who is known as the "llama lady" in their neighborhood. "The geese are the warning system. If a fox or a coyote comes around, they sound the alarm.

"The llamas are protective. They're known to protect sheep in South America. They'll kill a wolf or a coyote. And the chickens need protection. The chickens keep the bug population down. They're constantly going through on bug patrol.

"And the geese eat grubs, that might carry the one thing that can make a llama sick and kill them, the meningeal worm that attacks their nervous system," she said.

"And the barn cats keep the mouse population down," added Frank. "Everybody's got their job."

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