The Dairy Farm Adventures: The Wicked Winds of Westford Hill

Posted Wednesday, August 14, 2013 in Features

The Dairy Farm Adventures: The Wicked Winds of Westford Hill

by Lee-Rae Jordan-Oliver

In Maine, Mother Nature hovers between fall and winter, teasing us with mild temperatures one day and then quickly reminding us of who's in charge when wind chills drop below zero.  In November and December of 2011, our mettle was tested with the complete gamut of snow, wind, sleet, rain, ice, mud, and bitter cold. 

Throughout November, winter's icy grip held off as Matthew and I scrambled to shelter more cows and calves then we'd ever had on our farm.  In one year, we had more than doubled our dairy herd to eighty-nine cows and kept thirty-five female calves for future replacements.  In late fall, I hired Rick's construction crew to build a sixteen by thirty foot calf shed open to the sun's southern exposure.  Rick and I talked at great length about the need for a shelter strong enough to withstand the high winds that pounded Westford Hill.  In a day and a half, his crew constructed a sturdy structure weighted with pressure-treated support beams, rough cut boards, and topped with a black metal roof.  Matthew and I were pleased with the final product, confident it was heavy enough to stay rooted in position.  After living on Westford Hill for five years, I should have known better.

On the night of Tuesday, December 27, high winds, mild temperatures, and a driving rain stole  the snow while we slept.  I tossed and turned throughout the night listening to the wind and rain pelt against the southern window right above our bed.  I shook Matthew awake and asked, “Did you leave the barn door open so the cows could go inside?” 

“Yes,” he drowsily answered.  I should have dropped back to sleep, but listening to the house   creak and groan was like sleeping in a tent buffeted by high winds.

At 7:15 the next morning, Matthew flew open the door and said, “The calf shed blew over last night and three calves are stuck underneath.  I'm going to try to get them out.” 

 “Are they alive?” I asked.

“I don't know,” he said before shutting the door and dashing in the direction of the calf shed.

Immediately I called Mom and told her what happened.  I asked if she would come over to watch the children while I helped Matthew.  “I'll be right over,” she said. 

I pulled on my knee-length muck boots, camouflage pants, and fleece jacket and hurried to the calf corral.  The calf shed had flipped upside down onto its metal roof.  Matthew had already driven the skid steer into the corral and used the bucket to lift the shed off the calves lying scrunched together in a huddle.  The calves shivered from cold and shock, but their dark eyes were wide and alert as they watched us.  Matthew pointed to a metal green fence stake bent under the shed next to the calves and said, “That green post took the bulk of the shed's weight off the calves just enough so it didn't crush them.”  

Not wasting a moment,  Matthew dropped down on his belly in the cold muck and crawled under the shed to loop a lead rope around the first calf's neck.  I glanced at the skid steer's bucket holding an edge of the shed two and a half feet off the ground.  If the shed slipped off the bucket on top of Matthew and the calves, would I be able to swallow my panic and save them?  “Lord, please keep them safe.”  Matthew emerged from under the shed and swung the calf's head around, dragging her out far enough so she could stand.  He shimmied under the shed two more times all the while speaking softly to the calves to keep them from spooking.  Miraculously all three calves stood up on their own, no broken backs or legs.  One calf, named Strawberry, had a wound above her eye, but otherwise they appeared unscathed by their terrifying ordeal. 

After the calves were safely extracted, I called Rick to help us set the shed upright.  By mid- afternoon, Rick had his crew on sight.  He hired Andy and Bobby to use their excavator to roll the shed over.  In the pouring rain, Rick and his crew secured a chain to the shed and attached it to the excavator's scoop.  Andy carefully flipped the shed over twice so it stood upright again.  The shed suffered cosmetic damage, but was still structurally sound.  Having everyone promptly respond was a testament to the commendable service provided by our local contractors.  

After everyone left, Matthew and I screwed  four evenly placed braces in the back of the shed to prevent the south wind from toying with the calf shed again.  Someday we'll have a windmill on our farm to harness the wicked winds of Westford Hill and turn it into a constructive energy instead of having it be a destructive force.  Living with the wind is a small price to pay for settling on a hill with panoramic views.  Thank the Lord, we don't live in tornado alley.       

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