Heirloom Seeds & Poultry
1878 230th Street, Calamus, IA 52729
2011 Year in Review
Linda and I have never tried to hide our Christian faith and how we trust in God to provide for our daily needs. 2011 was one of those years that we are so grateful for God’s provisions and protection. One event after another made the year a challenge but there was always a bright side to each and every event.
2011 started out typical for us, rushing to get the catalog out, all of the initial seed packets filled and keeping the poultry pens cleaned and tidy. Daily chores to care for the poultry take around 5 hours regardless of the weather or health of the caretaker. Whether it is -20 deg. F or 105 deg. F, the animals need daily care. Of course, it is easier when the whether is more favorable and more challenging to greet the morning at 4:30 AM when it is -25 deg. F and the wind is blowing with snow everywhere. Regardless, each and every day has some similarities in the care of the livestock. We were starting to feel close to catching up by January’s end and then the blizzard came. As an avid weather observer for over 40 years it was exciting, yet back breaking. I did the best I could to prepare for the onslaught of snow and wind, but this was unprecedented since my move to Iowa. I had read in the Little House on the Prairie books as a child of the great prairie blizzards and wondered what one would be like. Wow, it was amazing and when it finished with the 15 inches of snow and 40-60 mph winds life was not the same around here for a few days. I waited until daylight to start chores (as we obviously had no school that day) and shoveled snow for the next 6 hours (with only a teeny break here and there) just to get to the poultry pens. I did not get it all shoveled to reach every pen when it was already 1:00 PM and I knew I still had to feed and water for the day. I will always remember the one poor pen of Frizzled Black Sumatras. The wind in the storm had ripped off a piece of metal siding and their pen was unfortunately in a bad location and totally filled with snow. I opened the pen door when I shoveled by only to find the pen totally full of snow from roof top down to the floor. I started digging and found the chickens all huddle in the corner totally surrounded by snow, in sort of their own private igloo. It took a while to remove the snow and find a location for it, but when I finished they were safe and none perished. The next day I noticed my sheep and cows standing on top of the hill making noise. I then noticed that they had no way to go the 700 feet from their shed to the their heated waterer to get a drink of water. The snow had blown up the hill in one part of the storm and down over the top in another part of the storm and left packed drifts all across the pasture up to 4 feet deep. I then shoveled a narrow path over the next few hours to provide a single pathway to the water. It provided great amusement over the next few weeks to watch traffic congestion as one group would be going one way and another the reverse and we would have a stand off as no one wanted to back up the one lane road. Needless to say, we were all happy when the snow melted 10 days later.
As the snow started melting we, of course, had ice and with the snow piled everywhere some would run in front of pen doors and make closing them a challenge. I spent a lot of evenings in the dark chipping ice, but still the opossums seemed to find every open spot. It became a morning and evening chore ritual to have my dogs corner a hungry opossum. It was almost as if there had been a truck load dumped off. The opossums were starting to take their toll on the fowl and I was becoming frustrated. Finally, it seemed the dogs and I were making headway. Then the skunks arrived. I realized the winter had been long and hard and every wild creature was hungry. But I was becoming rather frustrated at operating the corner deli for all wild predators. Losses were mounting and I was becoming desperate. One evening I spotted skunk trying to get into the barn. I ran for the gun and decide enough is enough. It was late and I tracked him in the fresh snow to the edge of two buildings - our incubator shed and the seed processing shed. I looked left but he had gone right. When I next saw him he was a few feet away and getting ready to spray. I shot first, thought second, and hit a propane line. I heard the gas escaping and quickly shut off the gas at the tank. I shot the skunk then realized I had been saved from incineration by the copper headed 22 shell going through the copper pipe and not making a spark. Thinking all was well after this, and being thankful for my second chance, we had a few days rest before the third wave came - that being a raccoon. We had never had raccoon problems in all 23 years here so I had become careless in my pen security skills. In the course of 3 nights the raccoon destroyed well over 100 birds and the sickening sight after they go on a killing spree is nothing anyone should see. Again, our faithful dogs came to the rescue and cornered the destructive beast and its poultry eating days were over, not before it totally wiped out 2 breeds and lowered the numbers considerably in other breeds.
Springtime in Iowa is always exciting, you never know when it will be hot, cold, snowy, wet. Each day and each year is different. May was very cool and our sweet potato starting beds sort of sat there waiting for heat. Sunday, May 22 we had a storm that clearly showed God’s grace. There is no logical reason we weren’t totally destroyed. We were in Davenport that afternoon after church visiting Linda's parents when I checked the radar and told Linda we needed to go home right away. We arrived home early enough that I shut a few brooder house doors and got safely into the house. The storm appeared at first that it was going to go west of us. It switched directions suddenly and headed straight toward us. I, being a weather observer, was watching it from the porch and then it became obvious it was going to get ugly and I yelled for Linda to get to the basement. The last thing I saw was the six foot high Forsythia bushes 100 feet in front of our house bent flat to the ground, with our sweet potato starting beds just behind them looking very stressed. The storm passed and at first glance outside all appeared well. Then a neighbor called and asked if we thought another neighbor across the road’s metal pole building was strewn across the fields. I looked out and sure enough no more building. I freaked and ran down to the other end of the property without any shoes on to where our poultry and seed facilities are. I didn’t even realize I was shoeless until I got clear to the barn. I was sure that if a nice building like hers was down, our old barn and my crude poultry buildings would be gone, as well as our old house which now serves as the seed storage facility and office. Two gigantic old maples are just to the west of the office. I got all the way there to find minimal damage - in fact, the old barn was fine, the office and trees to the west were untouched. Sure there were a few small branches here and there, but nothing major. Then I saw in front of our newest greenhouse where I had a framework with 8 foot sheets of corrugated metal roofing piled on it, totally destroyed and the metal roofing bent around a metal fence post 6 feet in front of the greenhouse. The greenhouse was unscathed and the metal by all rights should have sliced it in two. We lost a roof off of one chicken pen and a whole row of fruit trees just to the east of the poultry. but all the poultry were safe. I then started back to the house and noticed the roof to the house had lost a huge amount of shingles. We were spared a major disaster. Our house roof was insured (well at least part of the costs were covered) our poultry building, with their crude nature, are not. The storm could have varied 100 feet west and destroyed either the poultry buildings and/or the poultry as well. Many in our area lost all or many of their buildings. People would drive by for days and wonder why our old barn was spared, as well as all of my crudely built poultry facilities. While it took a few days to repair a few broken doors and pen fences and tighten a few roofs, we are so thankful for God’s grace and for Him watching out for us.
June progressed and the sweet potatoes eventually sprouted, late - as it was cool. We hope to correct that problem with an unheated greenhouse in 2012. Our cool June turned to a hot July and our master plan of keeping track of all of the weeds soon fell apart. My student helpers and I soon became exhausted daily in the 100 plus heat indexes by noon. Afternoons, instead of weeding were spent rewatering the poultry and trying to keep some sanity in the heat. Our darkest day came July 19 when it became unbelievably still with no breeze of any sort and around 2:00 PM we had a temperature of 102 deg. F with a dewpoint of 84 giving us a heat index of around 133. That was a deadly combination and within a few hours, despite our efforts, we lost close to 25% of our breeder chickens. This is nothing I would wish on anyone under any circumstance. It was horrible to have to see and horrible to have to deal with. For the next few weeks it was hard to not panic each and every day it got warm and still. A lot of garden time was lost just trying to prevent the awful from happening again. Hence, with the heat and stress we did not get everything weeded properly and did lose some seed crops.
Our autumn harvest season progressed nicely and thank goodness we were not successful on everything as it seemed there was never enough hours in the day to get to what we did have to harvest. We lost some sweet potatoes to the voles. The dogs kept warning me every day I needed to pick up the pace as they would tear at the rows harvesting voles. While I was digging sweet potatoes there was never enough hours in the day and we fell behind and the voles had a feast on some varieties. Sorry, but that is the reason for the unavailable ones.
After 31 years of being very involved with the Seed Savers Exchange I resigned from all associations with the group on December 7 for what I will term irreconcilable differences. I will be the first to admit I am rather stubborn and set in my ways and I could no longer continue going down a pathway I did not feel was correct. It was sad, but something that had to be done.
We are excited about 2012 and have some wonderful varieties of both seeds and poultry for all to try. We are always appreciative of your support and comments. Nice notes and words of encouragement can help make a day go much better. We hope all of you have a truly blessed 2012.