(Heads up… this is likely to be a long one. I thought of trying to write it as a real story but I’m afraid it may come out like a poor childrens’ story if I try to elaborate so I’m just going to tell it like it is…oh and please forgive any typos or let out words, I’m not taking time to proofread)
Last night I was in the middle of feeding the sheep and cattle when Brian’s Mom called. After talking about various things she mentioned that a winter storm was coming in. I learned long ago that the weathermen are about as good at predicting Michigan weather as I am at, well, putting on makeup and doing my hair. In other words, they suck and it never turns out like the want! Supposedly it was supposed to storm from midnight to 5 or 6 AM then stop and start raining sometime later in the day.
I scanned around the pasture. My only real concern would be the chickens. They were still set up in their eggmobile with the electric poultry net set up around it. I would have to move them because their fence wouldn’t work when it snowed. Then I thought about it a little more and decided there was really no need to move it. They knew the fence was their boundary and never touched it anymore. Besides, there winter fence would be similar and not electrified. The eggmobile, although open on the front, was parked to play the wind so they would be nice and snug inside, I thought. Plus, what were the chances we’d get that storm anyway?
Thinking ahead I realized I was going to have to get up very early to get chores done and be to work on time. Wednesday is my early day. Usually Brian does most or all of the chores on Wednesday. I called our good friend Markel to see if he could possibly feed the cattle and sheep and break their water in the morning. No answer. Oh well, I set my phone alarm for 5:30 and Brian’s alarm for 5:45 as a backup. Sometime around 10 Markel called back and said no problem, he’d stop in and help in the morning. I tossed and turned awhile longer and finally fell asleep. At three I woke up and saw that Brian’s alarm was blinking the wrong time. The outlet it goes to is old so if the dogs bump the cord at all it disconnects and makes it lose time. I checked my phone and reset it, 3:03 AM.
Out the window at my head I could see it was definitely snowing, and I could hear the wind raging. I got up and looked out towards the pasture. Good, the eggmobile was still parked securely, not moving in the wind at all. The horses were hunched down with their heads low, playing the wind. But why… uh oh. They always put their rear ends to the wind so their faces don’t have to take the brunt of it. Why were their butts towards the East? I looked around a little more. With the bright snow I could see pretty well. Sure enough, snow was plastered on to the East side of everything and the wind was blowing hard from that direction. That was fine except that the eggmobile was set up to protect from the North, South, and West, since that is where our winds usually come from. Rarely do we get a storm from the East – and that side of their coop was wide open!
It took me about 10 minutes to dress properly. Thermal top, fleece pants, Carhart bibs, scarf around face up to eyes, knit hat to hold scarf in place and keep hay out of hair, ear muffs for extra protection, then a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up to hold everything else on, two layers of gloves pulled in the sweatshirt, thermal socks, boots, and finally my Carhart coat to top it off. I’ve come to love my winter outfit. It is so heavy and stiff I can hardly walk but I’ve fallen down and flight of stairs before without it on and came out unscathed. I feel like a big, invincible snowman in that thing.
I grabbed a flashlight and headed out. As I thought, the chickens were huddled in to the corner and two of the Buffs were blanketed with snow. I started pulling up the poultry net and slowly worked my way around the edge. Pull up, shake snow, let the wind carry the fence to the side, grab next post, repeat. I got about half of the fence down before coming to a post I couldn’t pull. I would have barely enough room to pull the eggmobile out.
Back to the house, found my ball hitch, swapped it out for the flat hitch. The dogs were happy to “help”. Oh, just what I always wanted, I thought to myself: an ice covered hitch. Merry Christmas to me. Luckily, the ice was pretty soft so I was able to get the other hitch out and the new one in without much trouble. I navigated between the dog house, the dog cage, piles of scrap wood, and a few trees before driving in to the pasture. I pulled off on an angle and backed up towards the coop. My mirrors were pretty much useful in the storm so I held my door with one hand and steered with the other while leaning out to see. I absolutely hate hooking up to trailers alone. It is just such a waste of time when one person there to watch makes all the difference. I cranked the hitch up as high as it would go and, by the grace of God, got lined up pretty quickly. I set the trailer down on the ball. I didn’t bother securing the pin because A)it takes a hammer and a few cuss words to get the old hitch to work and B)I wasn’t going far. (Anyone else thinking now that this was a dumb idea!?)
I pulled away and made a loop in front of the new barn. My plan was to back the coop in next to the sheep pen so it would at least be under the roof and the open side would be more sheltered. Let’s just say it was very hard to see. Again, my mirrors were useless and this time my driver door was in to the wind so I could do much with it. I just drove slowly and went for it. As long as I didn’t hit the building and didn’t jackknife it I’d be okay, right. No, wrong. Wayyyy wrong.
After backing up several feet I noticed the trailer wasn’t turning like I wanted it to. I was just pushing it back. I assumed the snow had built up under the tires so it wouldn’t move properly. I pulled ahead to get realigned and guess what… the trailer didn’t come with me. A thought crossed my mind before I got out but I pushed it away, sure I was wrong. Unfortunately, my fear was confirmed with one look at my tailgate. Sure enough, the hitch on the trailer had come off the ball and I was pushing the trailer back with the paint on my tailgate. It makes me even more mad thinking about it now than it did at the time. It wouldn’t be bad except that due to another (preventable!!) incident last week my poor “like new” pickup it now more beat up than either farm truck – why!!?
Obviously the chickens were more important anyway. The trailer had tipped up on to its tailgate so now all the chickens were piled in the rear end. I pulled the hitch back down to the ground and reassessed the situation. Although the coop was still 20 or 30′ away from the barn in was turned so that the open side was out of the wind at least. The barn wouldn’t offer much more protection anyway. I got them a fresh dish of water and spread a few flakes of hay around they could have some dry, warm bedding. They went back to roosting for the night. I threw in some hay for the sheep and cattle since I was out there anyway. I was going to work on some way to put the horses in the barn but with the way the wind was blowing they were just as well off where the were. We really aren’t set up very well for an East wind, clearly.
After feeding all that hay I had a lot of it in my eyes. There is no good way to throw hay in a strong wind. I really need goggled. I walked backwards across the field to my truck to avoid getting snow and ice in my eyes too. Out the gate, closed the gate, and parked my the house. Trudged in and removed the layers again. It was about 4:15 AM. I’m blogging now and it is 5, I knew I wouldn’t sleep good anyway. I think I will lay down for a half hour here before checking everyone again and getting ready for work.
Lessons to be learned from this experience:
-Never go without securing the hitch to the ball. NEVER.
-Never assume winter will stay away forever and that the weatherman’s inadequacy will save you.
-Never, and this is the big one folks, never let your husband go hunting until all the animals are prepared for the worst possible storm, from ANY direction. We had talked about moving the coop but never got around to it and I didn’t think it would be a big deal for me to move it if I had to. Nevermind at 3 AM in poor visibility.
From reading other farm blogs I know that everyone goes through moments like this where they struggle and feel dumb. That’s fine but I’m about sick of those moments! When do I start feeling like a competent, prepared farmer? Soon, I hope.