Monday, November 12, 2012

Sweating the flood season: Farm preparedness

Ever thought about what you'd do on your farm if something big and bad happened?  I talk about what I'd do in this post.

Every year between November and February I have I have to stick very close to my farm, and make sure that everything is in working order - all of the trucks are fully fueled, and the trailers are all in good condition, and the tractors and other equipment is in working order, because every 10 to 15 years the dike fails

And this year is no exception.  But I've had an object lesson in preparedness in the form of Hurricane Sandy, which didn't happen anywhere close to here at all.  But it did make it clear what you might expect from a regional disaster - like a major earthquake, for instance - and what the conditions might be. 

So this year the weather has been kind of quiet, which I like, but here's some of the things that people have been going through with hurricane sandy: 

Electricity completely out for 4-6 weeks.
Gasoline/fuel shortages -- first, no fuel to be had at all, and then, weeks later, rationed fuel. 
Basic services completely gone for 2-3 weeks for wide areas.  No municipal water.  No supermarkets.  No cell phone service.  No phone service at all. 

In other disasters, looting and rioting have been a problem, but in this one that hasn't happened; so I can't add that to the list. 

So here's the list of things I keep on hand in the event of an emergency: 

100 gallons of diesel fuel - at normal consumption rates, that's about 2 weeks supply for all of my farm vehicles and generator. 

50 gallons of gasoline - chain saws, a gas generator, trash pumps and other small gasoline appliances.  I can't depend on being able to get gasoline in a regional event

30 gallons of propane.  Cooking fuel, runs the forklift, and in a pinch can be used to heat buildings or water. 

I don't have a good way to store water; but my property doesn't have a shortage of it.  I do need a way to filter it and purify it -- or at least make it safe for drinking, so I keep 15 gallons of bleach on hand to do the job.  It's cheap, and I replace it every year.  Works as a good sanitizer too, when cleaning equipment or dishes.  In the event of a flood I'd expect there to be water everywhere and that all of it would be contaminated with sewage or spills of all sorts. 

Food is a bit of a problem - animal food, that is.   My 300 pigs eat quite a bit of food.  In the event of a major earthquake, for instance, I'd expect my food supply chain to be completely disrupted, and that it would take some time for it to be put back into order -- food for animals is less important than that for people.  So the basic plan is to shoot and salt (no refrigeration, remember) most of the pigs.  Towards that I have 800lbs of salt, and I've seriously considered keeping a ton of salt on hand.  It's cheap, it doesn't rot, and salt pork was a staple travel food for centuries - I'm pretty sure that I could trade it for whatever I needed. 

In fact, if you're interested in salt pork, you'll find a video for traditionally prepared salt pork here.

The number of pigs saved would depend on the situation, but ideally you'd save all of the pregnant sows you could, and at least one boar.  You can repopulate pretty quickly with pigs. 

With the ruminants, it all depends on how much hay I have on hand.  Cows and sheep can and do feed themselves off the land -- and I'd be inclined to try to save as many of those as I could, particularly if I thought that the event might be long term, say 3 to 6 months or longer. 

3 to 6 months?  Does that seem long to you?   It sure doesn't to me.  A major earthquake, nuclear or volcanic event (we have all three possible here in Washington State) could result in permanent changes.  Look at the area around mt. St. Helens, for instance, more than 30 years after the event.  Or the areas hit by the tsunami in Japan.  Or Fukishima. 

What I'm talking about here is farm-level preparedness.   Do you think about this, or what might happen? 


Rich said...

I wasn't actively farming at the time, but a F5 tornado hit the farm around 1999.

It was about a mile wide and the center of it went right through the center of the farm. It destroyed all the barns (loafing sheds, hay barns, machine sheds), leveled my grandmother's house, blew away all the hay in the barns and the round bales stacked outside, tore down or damaged most of the fences, shredded all the trees on the farm, knocked over oil field equipment (pumpjacks and tanks), and every electric power line in the way of the tornado was laying on the ground. Anything that might have been stored on the farm to deal with a disaster was gone or destroyed.

It was months before the power lines started to be replaced, it took about six months to clean up most of the debris around the farmstead, over a year to fix or rebuild the fences, the trees are still trying to grow back, and I'm still coming across debris in the pastures.

After the tornado, cattle were moved to other pastures with undamaged fences or were sold off. Wheat fields were walked before harvest to pick up anything that would damage a combine.

There is no way to prepare for something like that. The best thing you can do is to try prepare yourself mentally for cleaning up the damage and either moving on or moving away. You can't spend time mourning what you have lost, because it ain't never going to come back no matter how sorry you feel for yourself.

It seems silly to me to have a plan to shoot a bunch of pigs and salt them down if the conditions are so desperate that you think that's your only option. If it gets that bad, you aren't going to have the time or resources to even think about doing something like that.

If Mt. Rainier blows it's top, making salt pork is going to be the least of your concerns.

And, if there is a nearby nuclear accident, there are going to be a bunch of radioactive feral hogs running around the hot zone.

If there is a minor disaster, then those pigs are going to be worth more if you load them up on a trailer and sell them for pennies on the dollar, instead of making them into tons of salt pork.

If another tornado hits the farm, I won't waste as much time trying to salvage everything I can or feeling sorry for myself for has been lost. Other than that, the goal is to survive.

Bruce King said...

There are some scenarious, like an F5 tornado making a direct hit on your farm, that just aren't worth preparing for. What could you have done to make that better? put all your hay underground?

In my case, I've got a nuclear aircraft carrier that's stationed about a mile away. If something happened and that became a target, or if there were an accident onboard that vessel at some point, the consequences would likely be catastrophic to the local area -- read: fukishima level.

But for a regional thing like a volcano, earthquake or some sort of political unrest, it's not unreasonable to make plans that include not being able to move or feed the livestock, for weeks or months.

When a regional event happens it's not bad to have worked out some basic plans and be prepared to carry them out. The salt? Cost me $180.00 Cheap insurance.

A volcano needn't hit me directly to disrupt the region; mt baker, glacier peak and mt rainier each have a different set of towns and cities that they'll affect, and I'm not on the direct path of any of them. But I5 is at risk if any of them go, and that's my primary supply line for animal feed.

Trust me, if I can make better use of the pigs, or better yet, keep them, I'll do that.