I cannot even begin to tell you how complicated it was to move, and how dangerous setting up the new farm on a time crunch was. Like I said, there were 2 huge pigs, 400 ducks, 15 goats, 25 turkeys and 2 dogs to move to our new land, there was my job, Andrew’s stone work contracts, and twice a day milking to work out into a rhythm as we transferred our lives 45 minutes farther away. The animals being raised for harvesting were nearly full-grown, but it was not their time yet, so they had to move with us. I had to live where my goats were, at the end and beginning of each day, but I also had to make sure all the other animals were cared and looked after twice a day as well. Phew.
We had ordered and set up fencing at our new place, which we laid out to the best of our knowledge. Nothing was there to build off of, so we had to install nearly everything from the ground up. We’d planned rotational paddocks for the ducks off of where our hoophouse would be. The game plan was to move everyone to the new farm after we’d finished setting up the initial paddocks and pens, and then build the hoophouse and tweak the fencing arrangements as needed after moving. We had 3 duck paddocks ready to go, divided out of a 2 acre perimeter fenced pasture, and had also fenced around what would be the goats’ shed as well. When we were taking turns pounding in the posts for the goat fence, my arms started to show their weakening, and I lost my grip on the heavy post pounder, which bounced back up and off the post and came flying to hit me in the side of my head. This was dangerous work, and I was so lucky to have no repercussions from that smack, other than a big goose egg.
Logistically, moving the animals was going to be complicated – HOW does one move 400 ducks? I knew I could stick the goats in my station wagon, but there was absolutely no way to move that many ducks in a car. A dear friend offered us the use of her old 4-horse trailer for a while, and we grateful accepted, promising to bring her farm goodies as a thank you, eventually.
We moved the all farm animals over to the new farm over the course of two days. The ducks went first, and that may have been the worst day of my and their lives. Ducks do NOT like anything new, they do not like adventures and they do not like to be told what to do. So there we were, trying to herd them from their comfortable pasture, towards a horse trailer, which must have looked like a black hole of death to them. They scrambled away, climbing and flopping all over each other to escape. It went horribly. I told Andrew to let me try on my own, maybe it would go better with just me, but it didn’t. The ducks moved like a school of fish, splitting and merging and flowing away … it was like trying to direct the flow of beach sand over the surface of a colander. I remembered an article I had read about Temple Grandin’s animal moving techniques and decided to try making a curved entrance to the trailer, so they would not see where they were going until they were in there. The motley arrangement of chicken wire, plywood and the fence gate worked. We got about half the ducks in the 16 foot trailer, and decided that would do for now. We drove Andrew’s huge old Ford truck and the trailer full of ducks, and realized we better get gas before we got closer to the new farm, where there were no gas stations. We pulled in and I thought to myself, this has got to be the only time a trailer full of ducks has been at this gas station. The ducks were calm, but I could tell they were freaked out. I couldn’t blame them.
When we got to the new farm, suddenly we realized our next steps would not be very easy- a 16 foot trailer is very hard to back down a narrow driveway, but after much struggle, we got it situated as close as possible to the ducks’ paddock opening. We swung open the door, each of us on one side, and guided them out and towards their paddock. Into their over grown eye-high weeded paddock they went, we shut the gate and drove back to my old farm for round two. The group of ducks who’d managed to escape the trailer the first time knew something fishy was going on, and they were even harder to herd. Dusk was coming, and we had to get them to the new farm, so with panic and exhaustion setting in, we frantically gathered every last duck into the trailer. By the time we got to our new home, it was dark, and we decided to leave the group of ducks in the trailer over night, as we couldn’t guide them to go somewhere they or we couldn’t really see. We were bushed, and passed out in sleeping bags on the floor of our bedroom.
Ducks do NOT like change, and we hadn’t realized how this stress was going to affect them and their egg laying. The eggs that they had been forming on moving day came, but then the ducks all responded to the stress of the move by hording their bodies’ resources and their eggs pretty much stopped coming after that second day. It was a financially painful lesson to learn, but we had no choice really.
The turkeys were very easy to move, they walked right into the trailer with a bit of a food bribe and some careful herding. The two giant piggies were harder to get into the trailer, but eventually we succeeded by making a stout hog panel channel to the trailer, banana bribes, and some pushing and shoving. The dogs and goats all were moved easily in my car. We used that horse trailer to move all the equipment and fencing, furniture and anything else we could pick up and bring with us over the next weeks. It was quite a blessing to be able to use that trailer.
Before we moved, we’d ordered a 30 by 60 foot hoophuse frame to be delivered to our new farm address. It would be the home for the ducks, as the little hoophouse I’d set up for them at my old place had worked so well. A hoophouse is a rather “cheap” way to make a large shelter, compared to building a pole shed. We didn’t know when it would arrive, and really had no idea how it’d be delivered either, but a driver called one day and said he’d be arriving in about a half hour, and did we have a way to unload pallets? Oh boy. A 30 foot semi trailer pulled up on our road next to the driveway. We were so lucky to have a friend there that day helping us paint in the house, and together we unloaded all the heavy steel tubes and parts by hand, while the driver told us about his farm dreams and dog sledding adventures.
Setting up a hoophouse turned out to be much harder than the directions lead on. Andrew’s dad had brought his brother in law’s bobcat down to our new farm to clear and level the site before we began putting in the footings and erecting the frame. The 30 foot width of the hoophouse, meant the steel arches’ span, once assembled, were ridiculously heavy and awkward to lift into place. And there were 15 of them to put up. We were running on pure adrenaline and love at this point, but our physical strength was getting pushed to the brink. On our 5th arch installation one day, we had connected it on the ground, and were awkwardly walking the 100 lb giant steel arch over to the site. Andrew kept saying “you got it?” And I did, but as we tried to lift it onto the footings, it started to lean. Now, this arch extended about 20 foot tall in the center, if that helps to picture it. It weighed so much, and my arms were so sore, and it started to fall. Andrew said “let it go, let it drop,” and I did, but I didn’t back up fast enougha The end of the arch bounced back up, and as it did, it hit me in the chest with the incredibly powerful force of 100 pounds of reverberating steel. It was the first time the wind literally had been knocked out of me, and I thought I was going to die. It hurt SO bad. I couldn’t breathe. Obviously, I made it through, but it was humbling and also infuriating to see my weakness.
The arches were hardly the worst part though, as at the point of every purlin meeting each of the 15 arches, a hole had to be drilled through the steel pipe to attach the bolts holding the purlin to the arch. Andrew’s arms turned to rubber after trying to maintain pressure on the drill to get through the metal over and over and over again. I think we estimated there must have been nearly 1,000 holes drilled in. I could do little more than hold the ladder for him, and try to have the supplies he’d need ready to hand up to him. I was gun shy now after being hurt several times. A very generous friend who had much experience putting up hoophouses came to our rescue and helped Andrew complete the frame installation. Moving onto and setting up our new farm was turning out to be much more challenging than we’d ever imagined.