When I type a blog post about some farm event or crisis it’s several weeks, or even months, after the event. With that much distance even the worst crisis doesn’t feel so bad, plus the receptors in my brain numb some with each crisis so I’m feeling less and less emotion each time something bad happens. This time I sit here at my kitchen table typing only 36 hours after the most recent event. Needless to say this post may not be quite as sunny as my normal ones. And why so gloomy you ask? Rain.
Remember that whole drought thing we had going on this summer? I was so elated to see rain during those arid months. No more. We are completely saturated. Our rainy season started months ago here when our temperatures dropped seemingly early in the fall and rain poured down simultaneously. We were not at all prepared and ended up losing 175 birds in one afternoon. That’s something I don’t aim to repeat so it means sleepless nights whenever rain is falling or even forecasted.
Our coops are equipped for cool weather and we run our birds on fairly level pastures not been prone to flooding; at least not in the past. Most of the rain we’ve gotten has lead to multiple coop checks around the clock and use of our portable propane heaters. Sure I’m tired the next day (the rain seems to come only at night), but that’s about it. Last week was different. All of the winter’s rain had left us pretty saturated and even a little shower results in quite a bit of run-off. About 10 days ago we got nearly 5 inches of rain in about an hour’s time. We were prepared with pallets and hay in the coops to enable the birds to get up off the ground. A little shifting around of birds, turning on of heaters and we were as set as possible. I felt triumphant and a little cocky about our ability to handle the inclement weather.
And then my personal weatherman sent me an ominous prediction that this past weekend’s rain was going to be worse than the mainstream meteorologists were predicting. He was right – at least here. On Friday night we got another near 5 inches of rain, while friends of ours in Lexington (20 minutes away) only saw a ½ inch of rain result from the storm. We got a full-blown storm system complete with high winds, lightening and so much rain that our pastures flooded. There were even streams of rushing water across our fields. Fortunately though it was warmer than usual out, as this probably saved our ass.
Two coops in the very back of the pasture experienced the worst flooding. There were over 6 inches of rushing water in each and the birds were all huddled on their pallets, standing on tippy toes. We had to evacuate over 100 birds via crates. As you may imagine it was a muddy mess out in the pasture but I ran (literally) up to the processing shed/brooder building to grab the four wheeler and crates. It was there that I discovered two other problems: 1) the four-wheeler was damn near out of gas and 2) the brooder was flooded.
A couple of the brooding bays were dry and, fortunately, we had a WWOOFer here so, I hollered at him to move the soon-to-be-swimming-chicks to higher ground. Luck was in our favor in the brooder too – we had just switched to rice hulls for bedding and they were so absorbent the top layer of bedding in the completely flooded brooder space was still dry.
I tossed every crate we owned onto the four-wheeler’s trailer, put it in “AWD” and headed out to the pasture. There were a couple of iffy spots where water was over half way up the four-wheeler’s tires and some really slick places too. I stayed on the gas, steered through the slides and managed to make it to the back coops without getting stuck or running out of gas. Harry then helped me shuck chickens into crates and load them onto the trailer.
Once those birds in the worst coops were situated on the trailer we tackled the two coops that had only four inches of water in them. To accommodate those birds we moved one coop to higher ground, made a big floor out of pallets, turned on the heater and then consolidated the two coops into one. The birds were crowded but warm and dry in about 30 minutes.
We hopped on the four-wheeler and, after a little mud running with chickens, managed to make it back to the processing shed. Well, almost back. The four-wheeler ran out of gas about 30 feet from the door but we were delirious enough to find this funny. All the crates were carried and stacked on the dry floor. Nearly all of the birds in the crates were at processing weight, so we made plans to process most the next day.
After that the birds in the field, brooder, and shed only required checking on. Everyone feathered was fine. At the 2:00am-ish pasture check we discovered the little pigs required some attention though. They were wet, shivering and bunched up. We made plans to move them into the laundry room shed and devised a plan to get them out of the pasture. Since the four-wheeler was out of commission we had to call on the ol’ diesel, our trusty four-wheel drive pick-up, to do the mud running this time. The trip to the pasture was successful, however the first piglet squealed and carried on so much when we put her in the transportation cage in the truck bed, the others were having no part of being caught. We ended up opening up a round bale, pulling hay off of it and transporting hay to them in the back of the truck. Once adequately hayed in their area, they nested down with the two bigger pigs and were warm the rest of the night.
Saturday found us making deliveries, doing routine farm chores, processing about 90 of the evacuated chickens, and preparing for Sunday’s farmer’s market. Needless to say we were exhausted by the end of the day, so we went to bed early.
Not exactly refreshed this morning (Sunday) but in better shape than yesterday. However, the temperature outside has dropped considerably and it is raining AGAIN. So I sit here at my kitchen table, with my jaw clenched, and shoulders tensed worried about the work ahead.