Thursday, July 4, 2013

Swept Away

Counselors, Campers, and Staff from both Pine Forest Camp & Old School Farm - All photos this post: Katherine Agnew
On Wednesday, June 26th we hosted our first Adventure Camp outing for Pine Forest Camp from nearby Milford, PA.  It was a huge success, with the "Farm Challenge" scavenger hunt/farm quiz, pizza making in our oven, wagon ride, and swim in the Dyberry, thoroughly enjoyed by all the campers (and the staff we might add :)  Unfortunately 36 hours later things changed quickly...

Dave Campeau surveys damage in lower pasture the morning following the flash flood

Just as the farm was really hitting its’ stride with all elements on the property really beginning to sync, we were dealt a cruel blow by mother nature.  A freak, localized storm cell dumped five inches of rain in our valley during the wee hours of the morning while our staff was sleeping.  The resulting flash flood caused the Dyberry River to jump its’ banks and our sheep, their handmade hemlock shelter, and the portable fencing were swept away downstream.

Olive and Uncas Jr. now safe in the orchard
Exhaustive searching and tracking finally yielded our twin lambs who were found over a mile down river safely along the bank.  Olive and Uncas Junior are now up in the orchard and doing fine on grass as they are over two months old at this juncture.  Sadly, their mom, Elska has not been found.

Our dark colored ewe, Freya was the other survivor.  Dave miraculously somehow
Freya soon after being rescued from the river- gurney keeps her upright
spotted her black head amongst a pile of floating debris in the river.  She was hauled out using a makeshift gurney fabricated by our kindly neighbor, Jim Sanders.  It appears Freya survived being in the water for several hours.  She could not stand for a couple of days following the ordeal, but has been eating and continues to regain her strength, now moving about in limited fashion.  We are hopeful for a full recovery.  Update:  Freya is doing walking on her own in the orchard.

Our losses are substantial:  Two confirmed drownings – our sweet ram, Uncas and another unidentified ewe.  The three other sheep have not been located, but we still hold out hope that one or two may turn up alive down river, but as the days pass, the chances lessen. Our shelter was broken in pieces, our 750' of electric fencing are a loss. Our pump house and solar powered pump went under water, but thankfully seem to be fine.

The bees survived by inches, as the water line stayed just below the boxes due to the
New drip system was shifted by flood waters inside high tunnel
elevated stone foundations we had built them on for this very reason.  We lost one door from our new high tunnel.  Surprisingly most of our vegetable crops are for the most part undamaged even though in these photos they do not look good.

So what have we learned?   It is not prudent to keep sheep in the flood plain pasture area.  Even if we had known this flooding event was coming, Icelandic sheep are not easily re-located to higher ground on short notice.  

We will now be
Looking east from the garden back toward the house
focusing our grazing areas for the sheep on the newly developed upper pastures, and we will perhaps keep a couple of  milk goats on the less flood-prone pasture on the near side of the river bottom adjacent to the garden.  The large pasture adjacent to the river will continue to be developed for hay and feed grains for our livestock.
Here at Old School Farm we each dealt with this loss in various ways.  It was very emotional, particularly for the young Benner boys, as we had been nurturing our flock for over a year. We feel horrible for the animals and what they endured.  We have learned from the experience.  

Being undaunted farmers we will re-build our flock.  Uncas Jr. can breed with Freya this fall, and we will perhaps bring Olive to another farm to be bred this year or next.   We will also look into obtaining two more bred ewes from Knoll farm in VT to bring in later this fall. 

This flash flood has been a setback for sure, but there are many other good things going on at the farm, and we will be sending an update on those shortly, including  more photos of the great time at our first Adventure Camp outing with Pine Forest.

Inaugural Wagon Ride

Many thanks to our intern Katherine Agnew for all the photos for this posting.  Katherine really has a talent for sure!

Happy 4th of July Everyone !

Your Friends at Old School Farm

A serene swim hole 36 hours before the flood

Looking on the bright side, these floods are what make our soil special and are what bring nutrients and minerals to our garden


  1. So sorry to hear about your loss with the flood! Best of luck with restarting your flock and making repairs.

  2. Hi Al - sorry to hear about the flash flood and damage - unbelievable - but it's great that you found some of the sheep, and your "bright side" perspective (that occasional flooding enriches OSF soil) was great to read - besides that, everything looks and sounds great (as usual!) - your friend, Mike (Missouri Farm Tour)

  3. Thanks for the kind words Becky and Mike...just now seeing your comments. Things have re-bounded nicely - it's just been tough to come to grips with the loss of our sheep and what they must have went through that night of the flood. Have a nice rest of your summer. Best Wishes - Al Benner


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