Our Henhouse Was “Gone With the Wind”
Reading Time: 5 minutes
We almost lost all our chickens and farm in a tornado.
By Dorothy Rieke – Have you ever experienced one of life’s unexpected happenings? These can be great, or they can bring disaster. One could only regard what occurred on July 30th as a disaster for my husband and me. I heard the tractor returning from the field on that hot summer afternoon. Kenny had been plowing a wheat field west of the house. I was anxious to see him home, for the sky did not look “just right.”
That afternoon had been a typical July day, hot and somewhat steamy, but now clouds were gathering, and there seemed to be a sickly-appearing yellow haze covering the sky. The hens, unlike on other summer afternoons, were not out scratching for bugs. They had gathered beneath bushes looking wilted and somewhat uncomfortable. There was not a breath of air.
I waited until Kenny drove the tractor across the barnyard and parked it in the machine shed. After he turned off the machine, I inquired, “Well, what’s it going to do, Mr. Weatherman?” My husband, a weather watcher who was often correct in his predictions, answered immediately, “We’ll get a little wind and some rain.”
I looked at the clouds now churning in the sky. For the first time that day, I felt unease. We had just started for the house when the first rain fell. Then, hail came down in clumps, striking my head and shoulders.
My first thought was for my chickens, so I looked toward the hen house. The hens were rushing toward the open door. That was good. Then, I searched for my younger chickens. To my dismay, some of them were gazing around, evidently uncertain as to what to do. As I ran toward the brooder house yelling and waving my arms, the hail increased in frequency and volume.
Kenny, now dashing for the house, yelled, “Dorothy, come to the house. You‘ll get hurt!” My only thought was, “I must not break my glasses.” I yelled and waved my hands. The chickens rushed toward the brooder house seeking safety from a seemingly “mad” creature. Finally, they were all inside. I slammed the door shut.
By now, the hail was increasing in numbers and size. Feeling a sense of urgency, I “made tracks” for the house while hail pelted me, and water blinded my eyes. But above all, my chickens were safe!
Inside, as Kenny was on his way to our bedroom to change out of his wet clothes, he noticed a stream of water running across the spare bedroom’s floor. That floor was a lovely varnished one that we had recently refinished. Concerned that damage would result, he yelled, “Bring some towels in here!”
While trying to dry myself off, I raced to the bedroom with a pile of bath towels. We got down on our hands and knees and tried to stop the rainwater from coming in around the window. The wind was blowing so hard that it was driving the water through the cracks around the frame.
As we were busy mopping up water, I felt the whole house shudder. I exclaimed, “Oh, Kenny!” Even then, we did not realize we were in a tornado and did not seek shelter in the cave outside the kitchen door. We were young and had never experienced anything like this storm.
The wind roared around the corners of the house. Five inches of rain fell within a short time. It was as if all the elements were angry with us.
Finally, the wind died down. The rain continued to fall for a short time, then it quit. I walked to the east door, which had a window in it. I gazed … wait, oh, no! My well-built white-painted henhouse bolted to a cement foundation, was gone. Drenched hens hovered on the roosting bars. The nesting boxes were in place, but the building was gone. I didn’t think I would ever breathe again!
I screamed for Kenny. He came running. “What?” He looked outside. “Oh, no, no, no!” He ran outside across the wet sidewalk studded with melting hail. Heart hammering, I followed him. Pieces of lumber, many with nails, littered the ground. I ran to the chickens. One hen was traumatized. Soaked, she lay on the ground. I picked her up. I took her to my kitchen and wrapped her in a dry towel. I put her in a box near the heater.
Kenny was surveying the damage when I returned outside. Part of the cattle shed was gone, part of the machine shed was gone, and the garage and corn crib showed damage. One corner of our house’s foundation was knocked out. Boards and pieces of boards were scattered north across our fields.
The corn was stripped. No leaves remained on the stocks. Later in the week, we smelled a silage smell. Those stalks of corn did not produce ears that year. Our prospects for a good yield were crushed in those few moments during that storm.
Our neighbors down the road, Wilber and his oldest son came walking up the road. They comforted us and vowed to help in the clean-up. For this work, they received 30 cents an hour. Kenny did most of the clean-up work, which was time-consuming.
I ran to the house to call my parents. As usual, our bachelor neighbor was talking with his sister. Since we were on a party-line, I asked for the line explaining what has occurred. They immediately hung up. I called my folks and Kenny’s folks. Both families arrived to assure us that this would also pass.
On that eventful day, I did not forget to gather the eggs. I carried the fully recovered hen out to the open hen house area and placed her on a roost. I, then, gathered the eggs. To my amazement, our backyard eggs were whole, but each one had dozens of cracks. We ate those eggs; they were fine inside the cracked shells.
The next few days, dozens of cars slowly passed our farm. They were looking at the damage. Nobody stopped to help. I don’t believe any other nearby farms had damage.
After a time passed, Kenny and I felt a great sense of thankfulness. Soon, our henhouse was replaced. Yes, the storm caused Kenny many hours of work, but we were safe.
Chickens were essential to our livelihood on the farm. We ate eggs and chickens, and I sold chickens. I had an egg and chicken route in town, where I delivered eggs each week and sold live or dressed frying chickens. Eggs often bought most of our weekly groceries. Once, a 30-dozen case of eggs purchased a beautiful crystal necklace and earring set for me. However, seldom did I indulge myself in that way.
Life is sometimes hard. Those days, weeks, months, and years after that terrible storm reflected our fears of storms. We watched the sky and took shelter, if necessary. Somehow, we were able to find closure. However, I always harbored a fear that another tornado would appear one day. Five years later, we moved to another larger-acreage farm where we hoped we were not in the paths of any more tornadoes.
Originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.