We live in the country in a very old 3 bedroom double wide mobile home that has now mostly been re-conditioned inside and out. We are about a half hour drive to the closest convince store and almost an hour to a city. It is around a 6 mile drive down a dirt road to our property from the highway. We live a few hundred yards from a lake but can’t really use the water from it and have no ground water. There have been multiple attempts over about a 25-acre area here to drill wells through the years, all to no avail. Aside from that we have a 2000 square feet shop, and a poultry barn that is pushing 1500 square feet. We raise and sell several breeds of chickens, and coturnix quail as well as eggs from everything. Add pet turkey, the dog, cats and kids to the mix and you can imagine that our days are typically full and never dull out here.
The resolve to the water challenge? Large water storage tanks, rain collection and delivered water is how us country folk here make it work. This creates unique conditions for a poultry farm and household to live under to say the least. Even with this challenge we love where we live, what we do and have no intention of changing it any time soon. We just adapt, learn from challenges and “so far” have always met with success in the end. With this in mind I wanted to write what it is like to meet an unexpected challenge at A.P. Farms in real time.
Where we live it is cold when it is in the 40’s. We get a handful of days in the year that the overnight temp might fall below freezing but seldom more than 12 or so hours in a row. While we do see snow, typically it melts off the next day and we deal with the mud afterwards. In a bad winter we might get about 36 consecutive hours around the freezing mark. For us to have several days hovering around 0 deg. With a chill factor at around -10 is a very unusual and most folks around these parts don’t prepare for that scenario in earnest. We have done more than most, even so it has given us more unique challenges.
First major weather challenge of 2021…
Thursday February 11:
A winter storm starts to set in. Freezing mist and fog makes for some beautiful trees and fence lines. The lake looks amazing with steam coming up from it! We decide to make the drive to town to get our van out of the shop before roads get too bad. All the forecasting was good for the roads until dark, so we hop in the Tundra and off we go. About halfway into the trip the mist gets worse and is freezing instantly. Concerns were raised as we find that we can’t keep windshield fully thawed and black ice was forming on the highway Our supercharged pickup is great for pulling trailers but is a horrible choice for these kinds of road conditions. We nearly ditched it just past a bridge because of an automatic transmission downshift as we slowed from 40 mph. Nothing like doing a Figure S on a highway with black ice to get your heart pumping! We safely crawled into town and were grateful to get our ¾ ton van to return home with. We left the pickup in town and made it a slow trip home without incident. On the way back we saw 2 rollover accidents that happened after we got off the highway, 3 cars in the ditch and many areas where you could see where vehicles had slid into the ditches and managed to get back on the road.
After we left the farm in the morning, we were informed about the Massive 133 car pile-up in the Fort Worth area. That is about 4 hours away from us so, while it broke our hearts, we didn’t think we would have those sorts of conditions until hours later.
After we made it back home we did our typical preparation for a cold snap. Checked for exposed pipes. Made sure all the turkey, chickens and quail were safe from wind chill, planned for being unable to leave for up to 4 days in all areas. Checked water levels and stashed additional water for the Chicken barn. While nervous we felt we were in “good enough” shape by the time we called it a day. Just before bed we checked the news and Facebook to find that there were many wrecks, roll overs and a couple of fatalities from them in the area we just went through. We felt blessed to have been safe to say the least!
Friday February 12:
Our preparations for the cold had held true and we enjoyed a somewhat relaxed morning and breakfast. Going through the regular routines in the morning and adding protections from wind chill to the chicken house, water system etc.. The weather was at its highest temp in the morning and snow was forecasted with the dropping temperatures. School shut down at noon and before long the boys were home early. Since most of our preparations were holding and full knowledge that the next few days would be challenging, we ate well, played cards with the boys and prepared (cooking etc.) things in the household to potentially be without water for several days. Overall it was really quite an enjoyable day even though it was already cold. We found it hard to believe that it was nearly 80 deg. just 4 days earlier!
Saturday February 13:
Temperature at 6 AM is well below freezing and had been most of the day before as well. There was a slight trickle of water in the house. We had left a couple of faucets dripping but not a small stream. This was because we only had about a half tank of water in the shop and couldn’t risk wasting it. We left the slow stream going and collected the water from it. In about a half hour full pressure returned and we went to search out where the freeze happened.
Turns out we had a small area (about 6”) of exposed pipe at the water valve before our filter that had started to freeze. We had dodged the second bullet. There were already neighbors without water. This was with temperatures in the teens and the worst 2-3 days and wind were still forecasted to come. With this information we started to collect water in the house in containers with lids and spent most of the day outside preparing for a harder than forecasted cold spell in the shop and poultry barn. We checked on our closest neighbors and started the routine of staying in closer touch with everyone.
As a side note. Without awesome neighbors out here, we would all be toast. I always wondered how people in the city get along without ever knowing their neighbors. During times of crisis having your neighbors as friends can be the difference between life and death.
Sunday February 14th:
Happy Valentine’s day sweetheart! The water is frozen to the house, the windchill is showing -10 deg outside, snow is starting to fall and the chickens automated watering system is freezing up! The neighbor’s water is totally frozen and another neighbor is having electrical issues.
And so the day started…
We found and thawed a frozen valve and got the water flowing again from the shop. This put us in full preparation mode and we drew water into every container with a lid we could find, grabbed some more jugs from the neighbor to have for them and filled the bathtub. Cooked up enough to get us and the neighbors if necessary, through several days of no water and potentially no power. Took stock and inventory then additional actions including helping the neighbor with electrical issues.
We had enough parts to build several new watering bins for the chickens that we could manually fill. This was critical since the automated one would likely freeze. Have you ever seen 200 thirsty chickens? They raise hell and a lot of dust in the barn! One of the boys pitched in to get them built quickly and we got them dispersed. With it snowing, below 10 deg. and 15 mph average wind we discovered our relatively new heater is not enough to handle this sort of weather… Using blankets and towels we closed off all the bedrooms, bathroom and covered exterior doors and windows down to just the kitchen and living area in the house. Our hope was to keep the temp at 65 or so. Additionally, we fired up an electric radiator heater and placed it on a floor vent to help circulate it’s heat a little. By the time daylight rolled around it was 52 inside and below 0 outside so we counted it a win!
Monday February 15:
As you already know we had a chilly night, but we all slept great wrapped up in blankets. Woke up refreshed but chilly and ready for coffee! The sun came out and even though it was cold our patio (faces east) warmed up above freezing quickly. It is fully closed in and insulated with half walls and above the walls we put greenhouse clear plastic which works amazingly well when the sun is out! Was a beautiful thing to look at that sunrise over the lake from the patio! A quick check around showed that all the work in the last two days had paid off. All of our critters were fine, no major losses and nothing unanticipated was an issue. Next was to check on neighbors and family and overall things were good there too.
Throughout the day activities included firing up the kerosene heater and thaw the water pipes in the chicken barn that come from the 250 gal. storage tank. We put the tank indoors last summer to prepare for the winter. Very thankful we made that change! The tap installed the day before was slightly frozen but thawed quickly and before long the new water dispensers we built were put to use!
There was one pullet (a young hen about to start laying) that was struggling so she was scooped up and taken in the house. Ruth quickly wrapped her up with a warming pad under her in a towel to get her body temp back up. Through the day she perked up, started to eat ruth’s custom made feed and drink a sugar / mineral mixed water, so she is looking like she will pull through as well. For the night she gets to stay in the house in a pet taxi. The interesting thing with a chicken is that when you help them overcome something like this while they are young they seem to be forever endeared to you. Most likely she will be one of the friendliest and favored hens for the next couple of years!
Aside from the hen rescue there was lots of work to be done with a couple hundred birds being in their pens several days in a row. They start to pick on each other and require some minor medical attention because of it. Several hours of that and all was well. They even enjoyed a little time outside mid-afternoon! After adding hay, moving water, feeding and separating the more aggressive birds there was clean up, feeding and all the normal daily chores to be done.
Going into the night we set up a heat lamp to help reduce the odds of another freeze at the birds water tank, went over to check on the neighbor, moved the kerosene heater to the back porch and prepared for a predicted “rolling power outage” overnight. With that all done we recounted the days activities, checked over our “to do” list for the day and settled into a very warm house (added another heater during the day) and enjoyed some family time. We will wait to see what tomorrow holds. Of course, we checked in with and on our neighbors before starting a movie.
Tuesday & Wednesday:
Definitely cold still, below zero temps with the chill factor considered. Our biggest concern was a multi-day blackout, but that never happened to us. We felt so fortunate especially considering the news about so many others who had been days without power! We stocked up on propane and added staged 2 propane heaters that can be used indoors just in case. The quail enjoyed staying above freezing on the porch as a benefit to the propane purchase. They would have been fine without the heat. We just wanted to prevent our storage of water and other pipes on the porch from freezing. Nothing over these two days really changed much from the previous one. We had somewhat gotten into a routine of hourly rotations of water for the poultry so it would not freeze up in the buckets, higher protein feeding, and general taking care of everything else on the property to keep damage minimized when we see the thaw.
Finally we see a little bit of a break in the weather. A quick inspection of our water system revealed a few hundred dollar’s worth of damage. Nothing major or overly time consuming to repair after it thawed out. A similar check over at the neighbors showed they had faired way better than expected too. Sure was glad we thought ahead enough to do some preventative measures or it world have been tremendously worse! The weather prediction for Friday was to be above freezing and we were certainly excited about that! The biggest thing we looked forward to was getting a hot shower! With that goal in mind and a fear of a parts run at the stores coming up we took extra time in the cold to figure out what all for parts we would possibly need for us and the neighbors, then added some extra to the list to be sure. Tomorrow would be our first run to town since the storm had hit. Should be interesting…
Well, it was fantastic to see the sun all day today! Every critter at the farm was happy to finally get out. Let the thawing begin! This morning first thing there are still some issues going over the pass with road conditions, so we opted to wait a little while to head to town. In the meantime, we pulled off some of the additional window coverings, door coverings and opened up our bedroom to warm up. It will be nice to sleep in our bed instead of couches tonight!
Made it to town just fine. I don’t remember ever seeing in this part of Texas the roads after a snow plow had been on them before! The mill we prefer to buy feed from was out of Layer pellets, and won’t have any more made until next week. They like so many others there were without power for 4 days straight. Their parking lot was a half inch sheet of ice and the city water main had broken close to them so you can imagine what other parts of the landscape looked like. The other mill had feed so we grabbed enough to get by for a few days, but they were supper busy! Was like a mini Walmart the day before Thanksgiving around there!
We were one of the first to get to the plumbing supply house and were able to get all we needed. But their PVC inventory, was dwindling quickly. I doubted they would get through the day and still be stocked. There was a parts run in earnest going on and a shortage was on the way.
The stories we heard in town were heartbreaking. Many road accidents with deaths, people without power and water for 3-5 days. The city was mostly shut down and the people shut off. Grocery stores empty. Restaurants were closed, some streets were impassable and bridges closed. Even hardware stores and big box stores were already running short or unable to open. A few more days of this would have been devastating at a level we can only imagine.
Back at the farm we made plans for the weekend of repairs and clean up from the poultry barn. We were even more grateful for where we live and proud of the community we live in and serve!
This was a very active weekend to say the least. Saturday we got our water back up and running as well as our neighbors. It took about a full day, $300.00 in PVC pipe, fittings valves and insulation to do it but the shower at the end of the day was worth 10 time that cost!
Sunday we continued with repairs and cleaning all day, It was good to get additional work done on the Poultry Barn that followed the freeze and the birds being cooped up for a week! By far though the highlight was being able to cook an amazing dinner (Moose Wellington) and visit with some friends who came down from their ranch for lunch.
It is hard to believe that this type of cold snap had happened here. After the weekend and seeing all the damage we realized just how bad it could have been compared to what actually happened. As with every “event” here we made some plans to make some systems better, and started making some of the changes we needed to do. In reflection, the lesson reinforced here is to always be prepared and stay on top of things around the farm to be in the best possible condition. Help the neighbors and accept their help as well. Living out here your family is not limited to those in your house. We all had to pull together to get through this and have become even better friends for it!
It is our hope that sharing our experience here motivates people to think about how they will handle unlikely but a possible crisis at home. That you will think about the value of friends and family in a survival situation and that you will be prepared in a reasonable way to endure life’s “events” at your home too!