Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Barn Fire - Day 5

Late yesterday the tractor was finally uncovered.

The hay spears warped from the intensity of the fire.

The once bright cherry red, tall tractor was now much shorter and black.

A dusting of snow this morning helped to cover some of the ugliness of melted tires and scorched metal.   But the snow didn't show any tracks of a certain feral kitten.

The bush hog and the front end loader were also uncovered.

The remains of the thick barn beams were put on a fire as the farmer and his son worked diligently into the night to clear as much  of the debris away as possible.    They have done a mammoth job, all by themselves.

There are no longer any beams and other debris covering the large area where there use to be a wonderful barn.    The ground is flat, the air still smells badly and the heaviest of the equipment will have to be dragged out, somehow.

I leave tomorrow for a temporary job and hope to have the funds to purchase the items I need when I return.   A frost free hose is #1 on my list, followed by salt,  a case of graham crackers,  a shed type waterproof storage container to put all the salt & crackers in,  grain scoops, buckets and all the other little things that made doing chores easier.   

If any of you win the lottery within the next few weeks, could you spare a tractor?    Age and color unimportant.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Barn Fire - Day 4

I went to give the cows water in the late afternoon yesterday and as I turned the corner I could see 2 small fires in the barn.   One small fire was right next to the water pump and the other was on a beam.   Yesterdays wind has stirred up the embers in the deep corners of the big barn.

The toxic smoke was blowing right in my face as I quickly hooked up the hose.
Then I lifted the still warm handle on the water pump and .... nothing happened.
Hose was frozen.        Did you hear me swearing all the way to Topeka ?

I drained the heavy 70 foot hose in the morning as usual, but it was outside in the elements--no barn to put it in and now it was frozen.        I went back into the toxic smoke, unhooked the hose and dragged it to my truck and brought it home to defrost.

As I drove down the dark road I looked up at the barn and saw how the small fires still burning in the barn resembled the eternal candles that flicker for a beloved family member in the nearby cemetery.

When I woke up this morning my throat was raw and I have that familiar dripping going on in my head somewhere.  I think I am getting sick.  I am coughing now as well.    This can not happen.

I made sure the hose was defrosted before I dragged it out of the house, down the stairs and back to my truck. I was already fatigued by the time my truck was loaded with everything I needed for my day.

As I drove up the road to the farm I noticed some activity inside the dead barn.

The farmer and his son were separating the metals and tin from the fire.  They were trying to straighten out the metal roofing so they could stack it.  Smoke still rising from the thick beams as they worked together as a familiar team, carrying, dragging, talking and stacking tons of burnt, sharp and heavy remains from the fire.

The tractor that has been so faithful to me is under the most debris.  It is slowly getting uncovered.      And my sadness increases as each piece of roofing material that is removed reveals the ugly metal hulk that use to be my strong, trusted farm companion.

It snowed early this morning, covering up some of the visual ugliness of what has happened here.

Now the work begins.  Piece by piece, by hand, all the debris must be carried out of the burnt shell of the barn, sorted, stacked and eventually removed from the property.  The landscape of the fire has gone from burnt black to gray and white from the snow and tin.

Gray landscapes make red cows look good.  They make my heart happy to see them.  Safe.  Healthy.

I have learned a lot.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Barn Fire - Day 3

I have felt like I have been sleep walking through a bad dream for the past 3 days.

The barn is still smoldering and the air still smells of melted plastic, rubber, metal and burning wood.   It is windy today and very cold.   As I drove up to the barn this morning small fires were burning on some of the beams, still.
It is unnerving.

I went through 3 hoses today before finding one that would connect to the damaged water pump.       The cows were thankful.  They prefer fresh water to licking the snow.

I am really missing the tractor.      I am unable to move the big rolls of hay to the cows.        The farmer has been physically moving them all the way from the hoop building to the field for the herd.  He has been able, so far, to roll them the entire distance.      10 years ago I could do something like that until I blew out both rotor cuffs, my back and my knee.           Farmers don't get old, they just break apart, piece by piece.      

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Barn Fire - Day 2

The sun came up and the barn was still smoldering as I drove to church.

The smell of the fire hung heavy over the entire village.

Having a barn fire is bad, but having one on a weekend is worse.

No grain stores are open so we could get needed supplies and businesses are closed for services (electricians & insurance).  So I prayed for some kind of intervention that would help get the stuff we needed, TODAY.

Concerned curch members asked me if the cows were ok and how the farmer and his family were doing.  We prayed for the farm family and for our village volunteer fire department who have had a tough weekend of firefighting.

I rushed home after services and took off my Sunday clothes and slipped back into my smokey barn clothes and headed for the farm.
The top mission for today was getting water and electricity to the cows.

As I pulled up the long driveway I saw 3 smokey figures by the pudgy grain silo.

They were putting a metal box and outlets on the silo and had dug deep and gotten the electrical conduit from under the driveway and barn. 

A miracle:  Electricians on Sunday!

These were village men and came to help.   I wanted to hug them, but controlled my unbridled enthusiasm.

Small fires were still burning in the barn in various places.

The smell of burnt rubber, metal and plastic was heavy and thick.

The electrican angels had the wires ready to go in a jiffy.  We attached several heavy duty extension cords and brought them all the way over to the fence charger.

As we rechecked the fence we noticed that several critical fence insulators were melted.

Me, being the girl that I am, travel with packages of electrical zip ties in my truck.   They were left over from my deployments to Hurricane Katrina, and were just as handy today as they were 5 years ago. 

As soon as we "zipped' a few insulators, lowered the fence so the calves could not get to the barn and maneuvered the long extension cords around the barn's burnt skeleton, we were ready for "juice."  Farmer Chip connected the extension cord to the fence charger and then I heard what I call "music" to my ears:  the steady clicking of the fence charger as it zaps the electric fence.   Amen.
The cows are now safely contained.

Next task:  Water.

The 2 frost free water pumps were inside the barn.  Yesterday everything was too hot to go stumbling in the barn to see if they would still work.  I have a pair of melted boots to prove it.  Today, however most of the stuff was "less hot" and we could not find another way to water the cows.  The stream on the other end of the farm property was frozen.    Even all the plastic buckets had evaporated in the intense fire, so I couldn't bucket water from the house to the water tank.   Not a bucket amongst us, it was time to go in and see if the water pumps would function. 
I dragged the now "fire proof" water tub the length of the barn to its new resting place.  I went and found a small diameter, slinky type hose at my house and brought it down to see if it would work.  The best water pump was melted and unusable.   The second pump "looked" better, it wasn't melted and it wasn't positioned in the area of the barn where the fire had burned the hottest.   I moved the still smoldering debris away from the pump and cleaned the nozzle by spitting on it and wiping all the black gunk off it. I needed a good tight connection between the pump and the hose.  As I screwed all those parts together I said a prayer to the cow gods, that they help this humble herd and give us enough water to make it through this crisis.       I pulled the handle up on the pump and.............nothing happened.  As I walked over to the tub to check the other end of the hose, the cows heads came up and looked in my direction.  10 seconds later the water came.   Slowly.  But it came.   There is obviously something wrong with the pump, it leaks like crazy from the damaged head, but it will have to do for now.

Some of the girls came over to get some water.   They didn't really want to eat snow anymore.  I gave them their favorite treats and they walked away full and content.

The rest of the herd were laying down soaking up some sun and chewing their cud.  They really seem unaffected by this unfortunate event.

The old cow, Susan, is my barometer for how the herd is.    Today she laid in the sun with her eyes closed, near the now clicking fence charger.    All was well with her world.

I still search for signs that the feral kitten made it out of the barn.  My mind thinks about her every second I look at the barn.
I continue to pick up nails and debris that fell into the cows side of the field.
I fear that if I miss one nail it will end up stuck in a hoof or swallowed by one of the cows.  I stopped putting magnets in my cows years ago because they were grazed in pristine fields with no debris.      I am rethinking that today.
However, in order to pop a magnet into a cow I really must do it in a corral with a head gate and chute.  I already have the magnets, just no chute and of course you saw how the head gate was destroyed in the fire.  I will have to be diligent about looking every day for nails before it snows again and hides those dangerous objects.

Lots to do tomorrow and some of my plans have been put on hold.


My smokey laundry is piling up, the list of things I need for the cows is getting longer, I have a craving for chocolate that won't quit, I desperately need another job to finance my farming and I need to shut my brain off and try to get some sleep.

Other than that, all is fine.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Every farmers nightmare.

At 6:45 am this morning, I heard screaming downstairs in my house.

A woman was yelling "Janis the barn is on fire!"

This woman had driven over to help a friend and saw the barn on fire and came running into my house. 

I jumped out of bed, dressed fast, ran out of the house, jumped into my truck and flew down the icey road.  The sun wasn't quite up yet and it was barely 4 degrees.

THANKFULLY, I live just 1/2 mile away from my beloved cows.

As I came around the first sharp turn in the road, my heart stopped beating....

This is what you do NOT want to see, ever, in your life:

All the fire trucks were taking up the entire length of the driveway, so I slid down the rest of the road to count heads and make sure all cows and calves were accounted for.  

Rest assured, they were.   No one burnt, no one injured, so far.

Amazingly, they were bunched together.   All out in the lower field, most chewing their cud and watching the fire.

None of the usual animosities were present.

It was the First time I had actually seen the 2 black monster cows " Mean and Meaner"  AWAY from the hay rack. 

 As I stood with the cows, listening to the crackling of the fire, I felt helpless.
I did count my blessings....and my cows one more time.

The fire department was trying to keep the fire away from the garage, the house and the other barn.  Luckily, there was NO wind this morning.  A rare thing.   That is what really saved us.

You have all seen the photos of the barn on this blog. Its big. Its fairly new.
And every possible piece of farm equipment was inside it, including a wonderful tractor with the forklifts to pick up the rolled bales of hay and deliver them to the herd.   Bush hog, all the hand tools, miles of zip fencing, dozens of fiberglass posts, electric net fencing, seeders, irrigation pipes, hog feeders, canoes, frost free water pumps, water hoses to reach the water tubs, 20 years of agricultural supplies and all the stuff you need on a farm seasonally and for the important day to day functions.

The barn was already fully engulfed when the electricity went off in the farm house and the farm owner saw a flash of light outside. He opened his front door and this is what he saw:

The fire department let it burn for an hour and then left to go on another call.
They have had 3 fires in 12 hours.

It was obvious that we needed 3 things pretty quick.
Electricity for the fence charger, water for the cows and fencing to keep the herd in the field.
Farmer Chip and I immediately started re-fencing the area, since most of the zip fencing had melted.  All his fencing supplies were destroyed in the still smoldering barn.

We scavenged fencing and posts from another frozen field and set the posts close to the barn, since that was the only area that had warm ground for the posts to go into.

The entire village had no electricity because of this fire.  Peoples homes were getting cold. The local electrical company responded immediately and started replacing the mile of melted and downed wires as soon as the sun was up. 
Those lucky cows stayed away from that end of the field when all the heavy power lines came down during the fire.  They must of had a flock of angels watching over them.
The phone company came quickly to replace their destroyed cables since the farmer did not own a cell phone and needed to call his insurance company as well as other people, for assistance. 

We started digging to find the electrical wire that ran under the driveway to the barn, hoping we could dig it up ( it was inside a condiut pipe )  redirect it to a safer spot and use it to plug the fence charger into.  
Its very disorienting after a fire. He thought the wire was in one area, but didn't have any familar marks on the barn to direct him.  Finally he had to go inside the smoldering barn to find the electrical box and then eyeball where the wire would be on the outside of the barn.

We ran into all kinds of complications and had to stop what we were doing.  I suggested he call the power company to request a temporary pole be placed on the cows side of the barnyard and then string his house electrical wires TO that pole so we would get power for the fence.  He used my cell phone and made the call.
It was about this time I noticed my rubber boots were malfunctioning....( melting )
I took a walk down to the cows to cool the rubber off and see how they were doing.  It made me feel good to hug my cows and know that they were safe.
Feeling their body heat helped warm my frozen fingers and calm my racing mind.

I was thankful that I did not have to transport all of them off the property and relocate them to another farm.  That has always been my disaster plan.
There are enough fields here to move them to instead.   There was massive flooding and a landslide shortly after I arrived and we moved the cows away from the flooded areas.  I haven't allowed them to venture back to the lower areas because of that incident.

As soon as the fire wasn't "as hot" the cows ambled back up to the hay rack and continued their munching and the calves had a well deserved milk break.  Good thing they live in the moment.
Good thing our hay is in the white hoop barn and the cows have easy access to go in, lay down and chew their cud tonight.

As of 3 pm we had the area re-fenced, but still have no electricity.  The cows have lots of hay, so I do not anticipate them leaving the field.
There is limited water for them, but lots of snow for them to lap for a little while.

Tomorrow brings a new day, sunlight and more help to get a water sytem and the electricity working.
The salt blocks were rescued, but the bags of loose mineral salt were lost in the fire, along with the kitten food that I was feeding the feral kitten I found under the floor boards 2 weeks ago.    I hope she escaped.

Make a plan if a disaster should hit your home or your barn.
Lots of info under "disaster preparedness" on the Internet.
Make a plan BEFORE disaster strikes.

Also, if you have a barn, take a look at this check list and fix any issues you have in your barn before its too late.

Keep your animals safe.

Most winter barn fires are caused by electrical problems.

What do I think caused this particular barn fire?

Here is my guess:

  I saw a new extension cord coming out of the barn yesterday morning.
 I was thrilled when I saw that I no longer had to spend 20 minutes, twice a day, breaking up ice in the water tub.

A little pleasure that has caused a lot of pain.

#1 Do not overload your electrical outlets.

#2 Do not park and plug in your tractor in a good barn.  Park it away from your good barns and then plug it in. I heard the firemen say that this is frequently the cause of barn fires.

It can cause a great tractor that looked like this yesterday:

To become this pile of metal today.

I hope tomorrow is a better day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Adorable

Every herd has cute calves and we are no exception.

There are 4 huggable calves here, none with any official names, but all with lots of personality...and a story to tell.     They are wonderful entertainment and have given me hours of smiles after a rough day at the office.

Lets start with the calf I call "Panda."  She is the oldest of the 4 calves.
I think she was born in late July.     Before I got here.
It took me forever to figure out who her mother was as there are some unusual relationships going on with this herd.

Again, these calves are not mine, so I do not know the factual details about them ( date of birth, whose the daddy, etc ). All I do know is strictly by observation.

So now you know why I call her Panda....

I am guessing that her daddy was a traveling man and was probably an Angus.

She has his color, but her moms mellow personality.

Panda is calm, smart and gets along with all the other calves ( including mine ).

She figured out how to get under the electric wire in the hoop barn to snack on the rolls of hay, any time day or night.   of course she snacks on the inside middle of each roll.  Its the best part....  This explains why she is much larger than the other 3 calves in her peer group.

When the cows were all grazing out in the lush fields it was near impossible to see who was nursing who from a distance.  When the herd moved into the barnyard field for the colder weather a few things became abundantly clear.

I witnessed her mom looking for her, every day. 
Panda isn't always where she should be.
Most of the time her mom is at one end of the field and Panda is on the other side, or in the hay barn snacking or sleeping in the sun by the equipment shed.
Most calves stay near their moms.    Panda acts more like an independant teenager.  She never looks for her mom.

Took me forever to get a photo of them together.  It was such a rare sight.

Her mom is one of the twin Hereford cows here.  They are identical, but this Hereford has a dot on her rear leg and on her I call her Dot.

Dot is a great mom.  She doesn't allow the other cows to push Panda around when she is nursing and she insists that Panda go with her to get a drink of water.  Panda girl usually has other plans, but mom is persistant and they come up to the water tub together for some refreshments.  Then she immediately trots off to get into some mischief with 2 of my older Simmental calves.

Yesterday Panda somehow got herself inside the hayrack.  I was in shock when I saw it and didn't pull my camera out fast enough because I was more concerned about getting her out of the rack before the big black cows boxed her in and caused a "situation."     If Panda gets in it again I will take a photo before I jump the fence to get her out of the hayrack.  I will post it here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter Sunsets

I get to watch the sun go down most days as I water the cows and roll out their daily dose of homemade Vermont hay.  As the water tubs fill up I glance around and take some photos and admire the different colors and shapes in this very cold environment.

When I am able to get Mavis to leave the safety of the truck, she will run and jump on the stacked hay.  She likes to look over the frosty pastures for a few minutes and then jump down and head for the barn, bypassing the cows and avoiding any possibility for eye contact.

Even the simplest shape is affected by the sunset.

Old cows look better in the colorful pink and blue hues.

As the sun disappears, the cows are fed, watered and salted and its time for me to head home to a mug of hot chocolate and a good book.