Ford-Corkscrew fire hits too close to home for farmers

This month’s Life on Today’s Farm includes Gilbert’s perspective on the devistation of recent fires. She also introduces a local farming family – The Wayward Barnyard.


By Ashlee Gilbert,  Reporter

This month has been trying for so many of our local farmers and ranchers. While the summer brings so much beauty to our region, it also brings trials. The drought of the last few months has left many fields that aren’t irrigated dry and undergrown. This has caused increased prices for hay, grain, and alfalfa. In the short run, it’s not so bad. But in the long run, it has affected every single farmer who raises stock as well as those who farm the fields. When the buyers can’t afford to feed their critters, they downsize their herds. The ones farming the fields are only able to sell one cutting, or two if they are lucky, instead of the normal three to four. Each step in the chain is negatively affected, from the fields to the farms, and even the feed stores. We are all feeling the heavy weight of this dry spell. To top off the increasing price of feed, this drought has fed many fires with one very close to home.


The Corkscrew Fire that started August 15 is still burning in Stevens County, covering over 15,000 acres. A countless number of people had to evacuate their homes, leaving behind personal belongings and memories, left with only hope that it would all still be there when they returned. We were lucky to be just north of those evacuation lines. Although, we did pack and make plans for leaving just in case; after all — it would take some time to move 70 some odd animals. The smoke hung so heavy in the air while temperatures neared 100 degrees. With the hose running almost constantly, we hovered over our stock, ensuring everyone had clean water and cold puddles to walk and play in. The calves got contained to a stall once we noticed the older cows coughing from the poor air quality. We managed to make it through with the loss of only one animal to the smoke; so many others were not as fortunate.


Oftentimes, the worst circumstances bring out the most beautiful parts in people. While families were fleeing from their homes and praying for the best, others were jumping into the rescue. The local fairgrounds became a staging area for animals. The schools were used for temporary housing. Local farms set up round pens and temporary fencing so that others could bring their displaced animals. Neighbors organized meal trains for the fire department and other volunteers. Dozens of people gathered at Double Eagle Pawn in Deer Park for days on end just waiting, with their trailers in tow, to jump into action when needed. Time and time again, I am reminded of the amazing community we are surrounded by.


Cinnamon, one of Littlefoot Farm’s foster Nigerian Dwarf goats


This month wasn’t all bad, though. We finally got some rain, and the pasture is a wee bit greener than it was a few weeks ago. I started halter training with Daisy and Primrose, although they both took to it very differently. Primrose walked the lead like she was born to do it, calm and collected. Daisy on the other hand decided to try out for the rodeo. Full speed running, body slams onto the ground and even a few attempts at playing dead. After a week of daily walks, she has come around, we can now make it all the way around the bird pasture before she starts begging to go for a run. I decided to let her have that if she behaves the whole way to the far gate. Then I turn her around and let her know it’s time. She lets out a pathetic little moo, does a hop and a skip, and runs with me back to the barn — happy as can be. We also added another critter to the property. With one day’s notice, a friend showed up with three Nigerian Dwarf goats in the bed of her truck. We had planned on getting some next year, but the goats needed a foster home and so our plans changed. We already had a small paddock fenced with shelter making it easier to welcome them to our home (for now). Sandy, Cinnamon and Patches will be residents at Littlefoot Farm until sometime next summer. I’ve already fallen in love with their huge attitudes.

The Wayward Barnyard


Justin and Tammy Merrill, who moved to the area in 2005 from southern Arizona, own The Wayward Barnyard in Reardan. They purchased nine acres on the corners of Spokane, Stevens, and Lincoln counties, giving them a unique opportunity to be a part of all three communities. Since then, Tammy has begun so many ventures for her farm and the local community.


Six years ago, Tammy and her friends started The New Crop Scholarship. They help to fund agriculture projects for children in Lincoln County through an annual “Farm to Table” dinner. Everything served at the dinner is sourced from local farms. Their chef Aaron Fish (Adam Hegsted’s Eat Good Group) takes the opportunity to connect these local producers to local chefs. The New Crop Scholarship is available to any child in Lincoln County who is involved in 4H or FFA and starting a new Ag project. Financial need is a consideration but not a requirement to obtain the scholarship. Unfortunately, pandemic restrictions have kept them from holding this annual dinner fundraiser for the last two years.


Tammy also sells homemade goat milk soap and uses the proceeds to buy Guardian Angel Safety Lights for the Reardan Police Department. She started doing this a year ago in honor of her husband’s father, Mack, a state trooper who was struck by a passing semi-truck. She had just planned to buy a few lights and donate them in Mack’s name to the unit where he worked, but one thing led to another and, with the help of her customers, family, friends, and local community, she has been able to gift 22 Guardian Angel lights to local officers ($125 each). Tammy plans to move from department to department donating as many as she can, including to fire and paramedic crews.


A few of Tammy Merrill’s rescue alpacas


The Wayward Barnyard has been home to many varieties of animals over the years with the goal of feeding their family nutritional food and making a little money on the side selling eggs and weaner pigs or bottle kids. A few years back they discovered their love of goats and alpacas, which are all rescues. They went to go pick up a breeding sow (female pig) from a farm in Chattaroy and the breeder sent them home with two bottle bucklings as well. Less than a year later they were buying their first Nigerian Dwarf does to breed, and then added Nubians and Boers as well. They produce the milk that she uses for her soap business and she occasionally sells kids for shows. The alpacas were also accidental. She received notice that two males did not fit the breeding program at another farm and needed new pastures. Soon after she was contacted about a herd of 10 more that needed help, and then another 10, and then a wandering stray. Some of those were just needing new homes, some were full on rescue situations. They currently have 24 on their farm. 


If you would like to contact Tammy or Justin Merrill at The Wayward Barnyard about their eggs, soap, goat kids or questions you can contact them on Facebook or Instagram. They are always taking nominations for the Guardian Angel Lights, even if you can’t donate, a like and a share on social media go a long way.


@thatbarnyardchick – Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok

@NewCropScholarship – Facebook & Instagram