Two Months

It has been two months since the flood started.  So much has changed since my One Month Post.

Things That Are Back to “Normal”:

We have all our utilities: water, sewer, electric, and propane.  The water and sewer are temp lines, but they have not had any trouble with them so far.

The dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and cows are home.  And the cow was bred while she was away.

Our driveway is fixed.

 

Things That Are Still Not “Normal”:

Our basement flooring is still not replaced.

The sheep are not home yet but will be very soon.

The main road to our home is still a mess.

 

Not bad for two months out!  There has been a LOT of under-promising and over-performing.  Much better than having the opposite!

We are very happy with where everything stands at this point.  We feel healed from the trauma, and everything just feels like normal life at the farm now.  While it was all happening, I never would have thought we would be this far along only 2 months later.  So that is a blessing!

Evacuation Day 1 – Part 2

Read Before the Evacuation – Day 1

Read Before the Evacuation – Day 2

Read Evacuation Day 1 – Part 1

As the car crept along behind my husband walking with the cow and calf I watched the other cars passing us.  They were pausing to take pictures of the cows walking down the road.  My anger flared up like a fire.  Why do people find it necessary to photograph people while they are going through something devastating?  People in car wrecks.  People being helicoptered out of devastated areas.  And people having to walk their livestock out during an evacuation.  Why do people do that?  Why do they feel the need to post pictures of people they don’t even know, during a stressful time, on their FB pages and on twitter and whatever other social media there is out there?  It was disturbing to me.  I swallowed hard again and tried not to be bothered by the fact that my husband and my cattle would likely be gracing various fb pages and such in the next 24 hours.

About a mile into the trek I saw the trailer coming towards us and relief swept over me.  We loaded the cows in right there in the middle of the road.  We told the guy where to take them, and to wait for us, we were going back to get the truck at the barrier with the sheep in it.  I drove my husband back and we all met up at the fairgrounds.  We put the cows in one small stall and the sheep in another.  I tried to hold back the tears.  These were very small stalls, and while the sheep were probably fine, I did not like my mama cow and her calf squeezed into a tiny stall for who-knows-how-long.  I told my husband we would have to hurry and find another place for them.  He agreed.

After we got them settled, and thanked the man who helped us, we headed over to my in-laws office to figure out what the next step was and to return their car.   Once there my husband told my in-laws and I that he and the kids had loaded suitcases and such into our SUV, and, since we now knew we could off-road out of there, we needed to go back and get that out, with the house dog, Holly in it too.  But what about the other animals?  What as the plan for them?  They couldn’t go in a stall at the fairgrounds, when night fell it would be a raccoon feast of rabbits and chickens.  And how exactly were we going to get them out?  Crates?  Boxes?  In vehicles? or on foot?  The place we were off-roading through had a gate, and we were not sure if the property owner would close it.  Also, the roads that we drove on to get to the off-road area were breaking as we spoke.  How much longer could we safely drive in and out?  Not to mention, if we would be out for 3-9 months, and there would be no electricity and utilities, we needed to winterize the house, and empty the fridges and freezers so we wouldn’t come home to massive damage and rotting food.  We could bring some food out in the suv, but there was a whole freezer of meat from the cow elk we got and from last year’s steer.  “We might have to just throw it out on in the yard for scavengers, instead of risk it thawing and rotting,” my husband said.  I felt woozy.  All that meat.  All that work.  Gone.  “And we need to decide about the chickens and rabbits.  Do we evacuate them all?  Do we need to…you know?”  I did know.  He didn’t want to discuss butchering some of the animals in front of the kids so we didn’t have to evacuate so many.  Our kids understand butchering.  They have participated, and they know that we raise these animals for meat.  But this was different.  This was VERY different.

There were so many unknowns.  We didn’t know how long before we could go back.  We didn’t know how long for utilities.  We didn’t know if more road would be gone and this would be our last trip in with a vehicle or not.  We didn’t know if the main road would go and this would be our last trip back in for a long time, even on foot.  Would we still be able to park at the barrier and walk in indefinitely?  If so, do we leave the small animals and just hike in twice a day to care for them?  But if we can’t even hike in, then what?  Or maybe we will be able to drive in and then we definitely should leave them.  But what if we can’t?  It all swirreled around and around in my head, making me dizzy, as my husband and in-laws continued discussing the options.  I finally yelled out “How can we possibly make all these huge decisions without any information!!??!!??”  And then I burst into tears.

My mother-in-law graciously grabbed the kids and said “Let’s give mom and dad some time to talk alone.”  And she led them away.  I crumpled to the floor.

“We cannot throw all our food out and butcher our animals without knowing what the heck is going to happen.  What if we are allowed back in in a week?  What if we have utilities in a month?  Then we will have killed them for nothing, and wasted all that meat.  We CAN’T make these decisions.  It is too hard!  What if they are right?  What if it IS 9 months?  Then we can’t keep all these animals boarded somewhere else for all that time, it doesn’t make sense.  In which case we SHOULD butcher them.  But, oh, ALL the work we have done to build up the chicken breeding program.  All those chicks!  What use are young chicks butchered?  They aren’t going to be worth eating, so it will be useless pointless slaughter.  And we have to go allllll the way back to square one again.  This is just AWFUL!  How can we possibly do this?”  I sobbed.  I had reached my breaking point.  I couldn’t handle the thought of killing my animals.  I couldn’t handle the thought of throwing away all the food we had stored up.  I couldn’t do it.  It was too much.  My husband held me as I cried.

The day was quickly coming to an end, and we needed to hurry up and decide the next step.  I didn’t have time for this necessary break down.  And we didn’t have the time we needed to make all these very important decisions.

My husband gently started, “I know this is hard, honey, but we have to take the next step forward.  We can’t freeze up.  We have to take the next step.  So, I need you to get the kids to my parent’s house and just try to settle and calm everything down.  I am going back in, with my dad.  We will deal with everything.  I will pray and make a good decision.  I don’t want you to have to worry about the decisions, God will tell me what to do and I will do it.  But I do need you to tell me one thing.  I know this is hard.  But I need you to do it.  Please tell me, IF you had to keep only some of the chickens, which ones would they be?  I don’t know the chickens like you do, I can’t make the right choices, so IF I have to butcher them, I NEED to know which ones you want to keep.  Can you please tell me that?”

One thing.  He was only asking me to do one thing.  He would carry the burden of the rest if I could just do one thing.  But it felt like one impossible thing.

No, I told myself, it is not impossible.  You know those birds.  You need to do this.  You need to help him.  He is willing to carry you and everything else through this, he just needs you to do this one thing.  I listed off the birds that were “most important” to our flock, and our breeding program, and our progress.

Just then, our oldest son walked into the room.  His eyes were filled to the brim, but not spilling over.  “Dad, I understand if we need to butcher my rabbits.  Do what you have to do.  God gave me this business and has helped grow it beyond what we ever thought it would be.  He will replace them if that is what needs to happen.”

I started crying again.  This time because of the maturity of my son, and his faith, and his trust.  I needed to trust like that.  I needed to have that faith.  No matter what had to happen with these animals, it would be ok.  God built up this farm once, He would help us build it again if necessary.  Our son left the room.  I turned to my husband and said “I will pray that He will give you the right answers on what to do when you go back in there.  I trust you to make the right decisions.  I will take the kids and give them some joy over at your parent’s, don’t worry about us.”  And my heart broke.  My heart broke for my husband and the huge task he had ahead of him.  I hurt for him, that he had to make these decisions and then carry them out.  And I was so thankful that he was my husband, and that he was so brave and strong.

I took the kids and went to my in-laws with them.  We played and I tried to not think about what was going on.

I cannot tell the story of what happened when my husband went back in, because I wasn’t there.  And so, for the first time ever on this blog, my husband is going to write.  He will tell what happened in the next post, Evacuation Day 1 – Part 3.

Evacuation Day 1 – Part 1

Read Before the Evacuation: Day 1

Read Before the Evacuation: Day 2

We awoke Saturday morning, after a long night of vacuuming water in the basement every hour, to a clear blue sky.  The flood waters were still raging.  We took care of the livestock and tried to go about “normal” activities.  Then, at about 9 am, we looked out the window and saw two officers hiking up our driveway.  My stomach dropped and I looked at my husband.  We both hurried to the front door to meet the officers there.

They said that we were not being evacuated, but that they were walking the neighborhood making sure everyone was alright and no one needed help.  We said we were doing fine, and that we had water and all we needed.  They again said we were not being evacuated and went on their way.

I was very relieved.  It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  We could stay.

Almost immediately after they left, a friend of ours walked up to the house.  He said he heard that our area was being evacuated so he came to help.  What?  We were just told we were NOT being evacuated.  He said that National Guard Hummers were already starting to help people near us evacuate.  My husband decided he was going to bike to town for the morning disaster meeting to find out exactly what was going on and whether we were, or were not being evacuated.  Because of the incident the day before, with him having a little trouble getting back home, I was terrified to have him leave again.  I was so afraid something would happen and he wouldn’t be able to get back to us.  But I prayed, and felt peace wash over me.   I smiled and hugged him as he left.

While he was gone, the kids and I spent more time in the yard.  We worked in the garden, played with the animals, and soaked in the beautiful weather.  If it wasn’t for the helicopters flying overhead and the sound of the raging river, it would have felt almost like a normal day.

I was filling a bucket with water from the rain barrel to water the animals when my husband came riding up the driveway.  As he neared the yard we made eye contact and I knew.  I could tell by his face that things were not good, that he was carrying bad news and a heavy emotional burden with him.  We left the kids to play in the yard and went inside to talk.

First, he told me there was a lot more damage.  That even though the rain had stopped, the floodwaters were still just as high and they had taken out more and more of the roads.  He said the sewer main was broken and that we couldn’t use that anymore.  He said that at the meeting they said that it would be 3-9 months until they would be able to restore utilities and roads to our area.

3-9 months.  It hit me like a ton of bricks and I sunk down onto the floor.  3-9 months.  Suddenly, the weight of it all was realized.  This wasn’t just a week-long blizzard.  This wasn’t going to be fixed easily or soon.  This was huge.  We were experience a real life natural disaster.  Like the ones I had seen on TV.  They were not going to be able to have water to us for 3 months.  And we had no roads to get water in on.  I knew what he was going to say next before he said it.  I swallowed hard, urging my stomach to not bring my breakfast back up.

“They are evacuating our area.  It is not mandatory, and I already know of some people not leaving, but they are strongly recommending we leave.”  Silence.  We just sat there in silence.  I couldn’t speak.  I didn’t know what to say.  I felt frozen, and I swallowed hard again.  My mind raced back to the wildfires, and how I had said I couldn’t even think about evacuating our whole farm because it was just too scary.  And here I was, facing the very fear that I couldn’t even think about before.  The room spun.

“More rain is coming you know.  Tonight and tomorrow.  If the main access road goes we will be totally surrounded by water and they will have to airlift us out.  If that happens….well, you know what that means.”

Yes, I knew what that meant.  It meant we would have to leave all the animals to starve.  They couldn’t airlift the animals out.  I pictured dumping entire bags of feed out, filling waterers as full as possible, and flying away, not knowing.  Or the other option, opening the gates and letting them go…to likely be lost, starved, and eated by predators.  I shook my head and swallowed hard again.  No.  We couldn’t let it come to that.

More silence.  Then he started again.  “And they are saying they are likely going to turn our power off.  We wont have any electricity.  They say it is a safety thing with all the water and them needing to get crews in here to fix things.  Honey, we need to get the animals out of here.  We have no way to provide them with water.  The rain barrels will run out eventually, and then what?  I can’t haul in enough water one 5-gallon bucket at a time.  And if the main access road goes…well, we just can’t take the risk.  We have to get them out of here.  Starting with the large ones, the cows and sheep.  They go first.”

I continued to sit, silently and in total shock.  I prayed for strength.  And then, I felt the kick in the pants, and I got up, ready to do what needed to be done.  We decided that I would ride my bike out to the place they were evacuating large animals to and get them to help us bring a trailer as close as possible for the cows and sheep.  While I was doing that, my husband would prepare the animals and feed to go and the kids would start packing.

We went and started getting my bike out and called the kids over.  My husband told them we were being evacuated.  Immediately my oldest daughter burst into tears, then the younger followed suit.  The tears my body desperately wanted to cry choked up in my throat as they flew into my arms.  A few slid down my cheek and I looked at my husband, trying to regain composure.  I swallowed hard again, this would be a day of a lot of swallowing.  My body’s first response to these types of things is always to throw up.  I pulled it together and plastered on a smile.  “It’s ok.  We are safe.  We can pretend we are going on a vacation over to Opa’s house.  There will be different toys to play with, and you will get to sleep in different rooms.  We will make it fun.”

“What about my animals!?”  She cried, sobbing into my shirt.  I gulped.  I didn’t know all the answers that they needed to hear.  I just didn’t know what to say.  I don’t lie to my kids, I am always very straightforward.  But I had no answer.  Lord, give me words.

“We are going to evacuate them too.  I don’t know how exactly it will all work, but we are going to do our very best to get them all out safely.”  More sobbing.  Then my husband moved towards us, he gently peeled the girls off of me, saying that I needed to get going because we didn’t have much time.  They calmed themselves and I asked them to please be very helpful to Daddy while I was gone, packing up our stuff to leave.

I got on the bike and rode, trying to take in and process the destruction around me as I went, but my mind and heart were back at our home, worried for my kids.  The wind on my face helped.  It brought me into the real world.  I saw pieces of houses, personal belongings, strewn along the river.  I saw the National Guard Hummers, loaded with people and their possessions.  I saw people walking along pulling rolling suitcases behind them, with cats in carriers and dogs on leashes.  Everyone’s faces were blank and shocked and overwhelmed.

I got to the evacuation location for large animals, the fairgrounds.  No one was there.  I decided to ride on to my in-laws office and borrow their car.  I told them we were evacuating and then went quickly to my Aunt’s house, who lived close-by.  She was fine and told me she had internet.  I told her to email my family and tell them we were evacuating.  I then headed to the fire department.  I didn’t know where else to go for help to get a trailer since there was no one at the fairgrounds.

There were a lot of people at the firehouse.  Mostly volunteers ready and waiting to help.  Unfortunately, none of them knew what to do about livestock and getting us a trailer.  As I have said before, our area isn’t a big ag area.  The only livestock around besides ours are a few horses.  They tried getting a hold of people on the radio that could help, with no results.  I watched out the window as dark clouds began to roll in.  My eyes threatened to betray me to everyone standing there.  The tears filled up to the brims.  I wiped them quickly, wanting to be stronger than I was, especially in front of so many strangers.  The rain was coming and it felt like a huge monster waiting to swallow me up.  We were racing against the clock to get them all out and safe.  And we were going to be doing it in the rain.  It felt impossible.

Then a man walked in the room and asked what was going on (referring to me standing there, shaking and trying not to cry).  We told him we needed a trailer to evacuate livestock.  He said he had access to one.  Since there was no way to communicate (no cell and no landlines) we agreed to meet at the barrier in one hour.

I rushed, in the car, back to the barrier, parked it, and hiked back to the property as quickly as I could.  Once there, I told my husband that the trailer would be at the barrier soon.  We needed to get the sheep and cows out the 3/4 of a mile to the barrier quickly.

What about the small animals?  What were we going to do with them?  Boxes?  Crates?  How could we possibly get 6 adult rabbits that could not be put together in containers, plus 9 baby rabbits out?  How could we get 50 chickens out?  And on foot, hiking 3/4 of a mile!?  I verbalized these things to him in a rush as we were running around grabbing halters and stuff, preparing to leave with the large livestock.

He said we needed to seriously start considering cutting down the numbers (read: butchering some of the chickens and rabbits in order to not have to evacuate so many animals.  Bringing the numbers down to more manageable sizes.)  My heart lurched.  No.  I couldn’t think about that right now.  I pushed it down, deep down inside of me and slammed the door on it and then double bolted the lock.  Right now, we needed to focus on getting the large animals out, along with the kids.  He told me that he had heard there was a way he could 4-wheel/off-road his truck over the mountain, through the forest, and get it out.  So he loaded a couple of bales of hay, and the sheep, into the back of his truck (it has a topper).  Then he grabbed Violet, and our friend took Ferdinand, both on halters, and they started walking them out.  I drove the truck with the sheep most of the way, with the kids all in the truck with me, and then left it parked before the difficult, 4-wheeling/off-road part of the drive.  The kids and I walked the rest of the way out to my in-laws car that was parked on the other side.  The kids sat in the car, while I held Violet so my husband could walk back in and drive the truck over the mountain and out.

It was time for the trailer to be there and it still hadn’t arrived.  We thought maybe the guy wasn’t able to get it like he thought.  Violet and Ferdi were very antsy.  They were not accustomed to being haltered, and they had now been lead 3/4 of a mile through destruction and were standing on a road with helicopters overhead, hummers, and people everywhere.  My husband decided to just start walking to the fairgrounds, hoping the trailer would meet them along the way.  The cow wanted to move, to not stand still, so he let her move by walking towards the fairgrounds.  I followed behind in my in-laws vehicle with the kids.

As I creeped along in the car, watching my husband walking our cow down the road, I remembered a comment I had made in many conversations over the last year or more.  With the major drought in our area, and the wildfires, evacuation because of wildfire has often been a topic of conversations, and the fact that we don’t have a livestock trailer comes up.  I had, many times, said “If we have to evacuate, my husband will literally have to walk the cow down the road.  I can’t even think about it, it is so stressful!”

Here I was, watching him do exactly that.  One of my worst fears, having to evacuate all these animals and not having a trailer, was being lived out right in front of my eyes.  And then I thought, hmmm, we are doing it, and surviving it, and it’s not so bad.  Not fun by any means, miserable in fact, but we are getting through it.  That thought bolstered me, at least a little bit, I knew that no matter what, we were going to be ok.  We were going to get through this.

Sunday Homestead Update

Kindling

We checked and counted Maple’s litter Friday after she had settled a bit.  There are 4 kits.  3 are dark colored and 1 is light colored.  We are definitely disappointed in the litter size.  This is the second litter ever from our buck Peter, and the last one he sired was only 5 kits from a doe who usually has 9-10 kits with our other buck.  Maple has never been bred before, so it could be her, but with Peter still not giving us a big litter I am beginning to think it might be him.  We will breed him to our other doe, Fuzz, who routinely gives 7-8 kits when bred with our other buck, and if that litter is small too it will be the final proof we need that he gives small litters.  If so, he will be replaced with another buck.

Despite the small litter size, we are very happy that Maple did so well and put all her kits in the nest and has been feeding them.  We are also excited to see what colors they all turn out.  This is our first ever (in 6 years of having rabbits) multi-colored litter.  So that is fun!

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Ebony, Maple’s sister, is pulling fur and building a nest this morning.   We expect kits by noon.  She was also bred to Peter and this is also her first litter.  It will be interesting to see how many she has, and whether they are different colors or not.

Sheep Stall

We finished insulating and doing the board and batten on the interior walls of the sheep stall this weekend.  It looks great!

You can see what the walls used to look like in the background of this silly picture of a chicken on the sheep:

hensheep

And here is what they look like now:

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So much nicer.  And warmer.  And just in time too, because both sheep have spent two heat cycles with a ram during the evacuation, so we are very excited to say that we are expecting out first ever lambs somewhere between Febuary 24-April 9 of 2014!!!  We had originally planned to not breed them until November/December so we would end up with April/May lambs and not be in the coldest part of winter for lambing.  We routinely go below 0 degrees F in Jan-March.  But since they were evacuated because of the flood, and ended up at the farm where the ram we wanted to breed to was, it only made sense to go ahead and put them in with him while they were there.  So we did.  But we feel good about this stall and it’s insulated walls.  With proper bedding, and getting the lambs dried off quickly, we shouldn’t have any problems.

Both these sheep are first-time breeders.  And they are still a bit young, especially Stella, since Longwools mature later, so there is a chance one or both didn’t take.  But we are hopeful!  And the breeder thinks that Fiona at least did.

The sheep will be coming home mid-November.  I can’t wait to get the last of our “refugees” back home where they belong!

Speaking of which, Violet and Ferdinand (the cow and calf), will also be coming home mid-November.  And Violet has also spent two heat cycles with a bull.  So we are getting her back pregnant as well (hopefully).  Her due date is somewhere between July 4-Aug 24 of 2014.

Once the sheep and cows are back, all the evacuated animals will be home again!  We will be back to “normal.”  And what a blessing that they all got bred while they were gone!

Construction

We also did the board and batten on the exterior of the upper chicken coop this weekend.  While we were working on it we calculated and realized we have built an $1800 coop for about $100!  I will be posting this week more details about how we managed to do that.

Christmas Presents

I am continuing to knit away at Christmas presents.  I just haven’t finished anything and thus don’t have any pictures yet.  I hope to finish another one this week and will post pictures when I do.

Maple’s First Litter, Beef Stock, and Flushing Toilets

We now have sewer!  AND we have a driveway.  We are practically back to normal.  We still don’t have good road access beyond the driveway, but besides that, our little piece of the planet is feeling much closer to normal.

We are planning to get the sheep back in about 3 weeks, and we are working on getting the cow back in a week or two.  Then, at least as far as our property goes, we will be totally back to normal.

The flood recovery is far from over, however.  Once off our property everything is still a mess and it is going to take a year or more the get things back.  But they are working hard to get temporary systems in place before the winter hits (our water and sewer are temporary).  We are hoping the road fix is coming up soon.

We really are amazed at how quickly they have done everything.  When we were evacuated we were told that it would be 3-9 months before we would have utilities and road access to our property.  Here we are, less than 2 months later, and we have all of it!  And at the same time, it is overwhelming how long recovery from a natural disaster takes.  This is our first (and hopefully last), so we didn’t really understand how hard it is to rebuild infrastructure.

Because of our trips to third-world countries, we have never really taken for granted the fact that we have running clean water, and flushing toilets, and all the luxuries we have daily.  But I must say, that living in our own house and going without the utilities for a month really made us even more so realize how blessed we are to have what we all consider basic necessities.  And I think it has changed us for the better.  Now we REALLY don’t take for granted turning on a faucet, using the dishwasher or clothing washer, taking a hot shower, and flushing the toilet.

We are prepared, in case the temporary water lines break, to go back on our own water system.  And we have almost saved enough money to buy the generator.  With those two things, we feel good about being able to make it through the winter, no matter what weather or infrastructure problems get thrown at us.  And that feels good.

Maple and Ebony are both due to kindle today.  Maple kindled this morning.  She did excellent and put all the kits into the nest box!!!  I was very glad because it was very chilly in the barn this morning, probably in the 20s.  We have not had many does do that on their first kindling, so that bodes well for her as a mom.  We haven’t investigated the box yet to count kits, we will let her settle a bit first and then check it out to count kits and remove any dead ones.  The kids are anxious for me to get to it because we don’t really know what color(s) to expect from this breeding.

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Maple, right after she started pulling fur but before kindling (you can see the fur on the bottom of the cage)

Now we continue with the kindling watch for Ebony.  With first time mom’s we check every hour, and when they start pulling fur we check every half-hour, and then when they are actively birthing we check every 10 minutes.  Our checks are more often on colder days too.  It is important that if any kits are born on the wire they are warmed and moved into the nest within a few minutes, especially if it is very cold.

I went ahead and made the beef stock.  After about 6 hours of simmering I poured it off, and then kept the bones and refilled the pot, added new veggies and seasoning and ran it a second time like I do with the chicken stock.

The second round of beef stock was definitely more bland.  So I reduced it a bit on the stove, and then we went ahead and canned it.  It isn’t the most flavorful way to do it, but I feel like it is important to get every little bit we can out of it, so I will probably double run the bones every time and then just add more seasonings when I use it to cook with.  We must be frugal, and this is a way to do it.  I got 9 Qts of beef broth canned.  It feels good to have that stocked up along with the 10 Qts of chicken stock.  We decided to use the pink lids on the beef and the white on the chicken so it would be easy to tell them apart, even though the color of the stock itself is definitely different.

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