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Winds knock out power and nearly cost us all of our chicks

Posted 3/2/2014 9:52pm by Monique Russ.

Our chick nursery

My hubby and I are no strangers to the school of hard knocks just the same as Gold Bar is no stranger to severe wind storms, and for the past couple of weeks we’ve been enduring one of these relentless storms. The winds are none stop, and it’s not just a little windy - we’re talking constant wind around 35-40 mph with gusts well over 50 mph and probably close to 70mph at times. The winds shake the house and rattle the windows, blow over rod iron garden furniture, knock over full garbage cans, and it’s even been strong enough to blow our quad a few feet when it’s been left in neutral.  

Back in 2009 Gold Bar was even mentioned on the news for having a snow hurricane; whiteout conditions, 100+ mph winds and 6 foot snow drifts. This was the winter the Puget Sound got hit with a massive storm that knocked out power to thousands of people for several days. We were one such household, and back then we didn’t have an alternate source of heat, light, etc. That was the year we bought our generator and indoor-safe portable propane heaters. However, in 2010 Snohomish PUD re-routed our power, and even though we’ve had several nasty storms since then our power has never been out for more than a couple of minutes.  

Most wind storms are harmless and just knock down some branches here and there, but Saturday’s storm nearly killed all of our meat birds and baby chicks…  

Saturday night we went out to dinner and hung out with family for several hours, so we ended up getting home around 12:30am which is something we don’t normally ever do. (Normally we’re so tired from all of the hard work that we’re passed out long before then.) As we pulled into Gold Bar we realized something was off..it was dark, too dark. When we realized everyone’s power was out panic instantly set in. The chicks!!  

We currently have nearly 300 baby chicks on the farm right now; mostly meat birds which will be sold later this year. The meat bird chicks which are housed in an enclosed stall in our barn are only 4 weeks old, and in another room we have approximately 75 egg layer chicks that are less than 2 weeks old. All of the chicks are still too young to survive out on pasture with the other birds. Their feathers haven’t come in yet, and until they do they need supplemental heat to survive, so they are in large heated stalls. Unfortunately, our main heat source for the chicks is electric based, so with the power out there’s no heat to keep these babies warm. No electric, no heat, no ability to keep the babies alive.  

As soon as we got home we raced out to the barn and peeked in on the chicks. Thankfully the power must have just gone out because they were all still warm and sleeping. However, it was snowing (it snowed all weekend), temps were below freezing, and with the wind those rooms would lose heat rapidly. We needed to get our backup plan up and running; our generator. Guess what! The damn thing wouldn’t start!! (That’s MoBen law – Murphy ain’t got nothing on us.) Ben had just performed maintenance on it, and had it running last week just to make sure it was still working properly, so why in the heck wouldn’t it start?! So, our only hope…put the chicks in the farrowing stall.  

In the winter our sows farrow (deliver) their babies in a heated stall in our barn to help reduce baby pig losses from the freezing temps. The stall is heated using a thermostatically controlled propane radiant heater and Miss Pig Pig, who is due to deliver babies in the next couple of days, was comfortably asleep in there. In order to put all the chicks in there we had to kick Pig Pig out (she would have crushed them) and she was not a happy camper that she was losing her stall at 1am in the morning. (She still had a huge covered area with straw sheltering her from the wind.) By the time we got Pig Pig situated, the heater started, and the room ready for the chicks we had already lost 7 birds to the cold.  

At 2:30am we finally crawled into bed. Not half an hour later the power came back on - Thank God!! I was so worried about the chicks and Miss Pig Pig that I didn’t get much sleep, so 3 hours later we got up and headed out to the barn expecting to find the worse…lots of dead chicks. (When chicks get cold they pile on top of each another and oftentimes inadvertently suffocate one another so the cold temps weren’t the only concern here.) Miraculously we didn’t lose a single chick! Amazing! We successfully avoided a major catastrophe and we felt very blessed that this didn’t turn out much worse. I don't even want to think about what could have happened if the power had gone out hours before we got home.  

After checking on the chicks we started checking out the rest of the farm and we realized just how bad the wind had gotten…it ripped off the roof on one of our egg layer houses. Fortunately, all the ladies and roosters were fine and no major damage was caused but now we have another project to add to the list. After walking the woodlands and seeing that the rest of the animals were safe and snuggled up in their houses we feel we got pretty lucky.  

So, another storm another lesson learned. Never rely on a generator, and always have a contingency plan in case your backup fails when raising animals. Farming is a constant learning process, and once again, the animals and Mother Nature have proven to be our best teachers.

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