After wildfires in the state burned through hundreds of thousands of acres of land and devastated many homes and properties, upwards of 4,000 displaced livestock are without food in Okanogan County.
Many farmers in Lewis County have donated hay toward the effort of feeding the thousands of cattle and other animals that are roaming the mountainside in Okanogan County after fences and barns were burned down. Leading the local hay collection efforts and coordinating trucks and trailers to transport the hay are Geff and Brittany Duncan of Duncan Family Farm, a hay retailer and producer in Chehalis.
“In the farming community, everybody takes care of everybody. I’ve had some great neighbors that have helped me out along the way. It’s just how farmers are — if something happens you take care of your neighbor,” said Geff Duncan.
Naomie Peasley, the fairgrounds manager for Okanogan County, explained that about 190,000 acres of land were burned in Okanogan County, including 78 residences. She said that about 40 people who own livestock have been displaced and had to leave their animals behind when evacuating from the area. Many ranchers lost large amounts of hay that was meant to feed their animals throughout the upcoming winter.
“The cattle ranchers are still trying to round up their animals that are roaming all over the mountain here. They’re still finding dead ones all over. What burned was a huge, huge area of range and hay lands. There are animals all over the place,” said Peasley.
Ranchers are trying to figure out what animals need respiratory care and which ones need to be put down because of severe burns and injuries.
The Duncans found that there were many people wanting to donate hay or help out in some way but there wasn’t anyone coordinating the efforts so Brittany Duncan started telling local farmers to drop the hay off at their barn and they would find a way to haul it the five hours to Okanogan County.
Collecting the hay donations was only half the battle and finding trucking companies that were willing to donate their time and equipment was the other half. After many phone calls and coordination with generous people in the region, eight truckloads of hay left Duncan Family Farms on Friday morning and five more truckloads are lined up to make the trip to Okanogan County Fairgrounds on Saturday.
Brittany and Geff Duncan said that they’ll be transporting over 150 tons of hay on Friday and Saturday this weekend to Okanogan County which has an estimated value of $25,000. Last weekend a car enthusiast group, Gambler 500, was able to haul several tons of hay to Okanogan County.
Gambler 500 member Phil Ledors, who had hay growing in Chehalis, was inspired by the group’s efforts and was able to donate 50 four foot round bales of hay. The issue then was transportation. Chip Duncan, a local Gramber 500 member, got involved in trying to find transportation for the donated hay.
“I tried all of my contacts with semi-trucks which led to dead ends mostly,” said Chip Duncan. “Throwing a ‘Hail Mary’ pass I decided to post the need for transportation on the Cruise Centralia Facebook page. It was there that we connected with Geff and Brittany Duncan who are now heading out to Okanogan this weekend with 150 tons of hay for the ranchers.”
Local farmers that have donated hay include Rocking J Ranch in Onalaska, Dick Sorenson in Toledo, Kyle Deskins in Ethel, Wayne Gray in Chehalis and Tim Bostwick in Winlock. The Duncans were able to donate about 65 tons of their own crop.
The Duncans set a donation page on the website for those wishing to help out with the costs of hay and the cost of hauling — www.duncanff.com/product-page/donate-hay-for-displaced-horses-livestock. The Farm Store in Chehalis is taking donations of fencing materials — bared wire and wood posts — to help rebuild the rancher’s fences.
“All of the monetary donations are going toward whatever hay local farmers are willing to donate or sell to us at a discounted rate to get as much hay as possible over to Okanogan,” said Brittany Duncan. “We are hoping to continue monetary donations from our community to help pay for the cost of the hay product as well as the freight to get the hay where it needs to go.”
Brittany said that she hopes she can keep up her efforts for at least a month but since she works a full-time job, the time she can put toward coordinating the donations and trucks for delivery is limited.
“I have been receiving upwards of 20 calls a day from people wanting to help out over the past few days,” said Brittany Duncan. “I’m always trying to help wherever I can to make a difference. I can’t believe how much the community is rallying and how much donations we’re receiving.”
Western Container Transport Incorporated is a trucking company out of Vancouver that Geff Duncan’s father, Joe Duncan, works for and he has volunteered to drive a truck and trailer packed with hay the ten hours there and back.
The convoy of trucks with the life-saving hay will include three trucks and trailers provided by Watch This Freight out of Olympia and two semi-trucks driven by Kevin Dobbins of Dobbins Farms out of Ridgefield.
The cost of freight alone is estimated at $2,500, Brittany Duncan said.
Geff Duncan said it’s amazing how many people have donated hay and are wanting to help out and he can’t imagine how hard it is for the farmers and ranchers whose property was destroyed by the wildfires.
“It would be catastrophic — with how much money farmers invest in equipment. There are farmers over there that probably have over $100,000 of grain and hay in a barn to feed their animals and to watch it just burn down in front of you — It would be hard to pull you out of it. It’s like a sailor and their boat, they don’t want to leave their farm behind,” said Geff Duncan.