At 4:04 p.m. this past Friday, John Carroll posted on Facebook:
“Anyone near 245 and Q with a live-stock trailer or something similar. We are Flooding! Thank you.”
More than 40 strangers driving pickups, many with trailers, began showing up to help rescue the rare San Clemente Island goats at Carroll’s farm near Gretna. There, at Willow Valley Farms near 240th and Q Streets, Carroll and Chad Wegener care for 250 San Clemente Island goats. It’s the world’s largest herd of the rare breed.
Water from the Elkhorn River started filling pastures Friday afternoon. Flooding rose quickly, Wegener said, faster than anyone thought it would. So fast, in fact, that some helpers had to park on Q Street or 240th Street and enter the farm on foot.
Satellite view of the Elkhorn River near Willow Valley Farms before and after flooding. Images from Sentinel-2 L1C.
Joy Bartling was one of them. She jumped in her pickup — trailer still attached from making animal rescues the night before until 1 a.m.
She’d never met Carroll or Wegener. But she knew she had space on her farm, Scatter Joy Acres in northeast Omaha, where the goats could stay.
Volunteers filled Bartling’s trailer and two more with 200 goats, carrying each one through standing water. That took hours, Carroll said.
The water continued to rise.
Another 50 goats — males, larger than the females — remained in a pen on the most distant part of the property, the site of the deepest water.
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Carroll and two neighbors began walking the males out, but the water got too deep. Struggling animals kept pulling rescuers down into the frigid water, which was filled with huge hunks of ice and debris. Volunteers, many only in street clothes, jumped blindly into the swirling water, having no idea how deep it was or what might lie underneath.
“We just kept going,” Carroll said. “We were picking goats up by their horns and throwing them over a fence.”
By about 11 p.m., the last goat had been rescued. Amazingly, only one goat was lost — a female, who died later.
Meanwhile, Bartling’s convoy of goat-filled trailers was stopped by a sheriff, who told them they couldn’t get back down Q Street because it had washed out. So they headed north, traveling over other water-covered roads.
“The first time, the water was probably to the top of the tires,” Bartling said. “The last time, it was over my headlights, and I could not see where I was going.”
They made it the 30 miles to her ranch safely, where another plea for volunteers went out. This time, it was Bartling seeking help, asking volunteers to bring towels to help dry goats. About 40 people showed.
“I didn’t know them — they just responded,” she said.
More volunteers arrived the next day, Saturday, to help around the ranch, which usually operates as a petting zoo. On Sunday, a volunteer donated hay. A local veterinary clinic donated 250 vaccinations. A GoFundMe page has been set up for both the care of the goats down the road, and to help rebuild Willow Valley Farms.
The remainder of the male goats are headed to a temporary home on a farm in Weston, Nebraska.
“We were just afraid we would lose a third of (the goats) to the flood,” Wegener said. “It was incredible, such an incredible thing to witness.”
Only about 750 San Clemente Island goats remain in the world.
Carroll and Wegener started their farm in 2008, and it’s also home to chickens, turkeys, ducks, guinea fowl and peacocks, as well as vegetable gardens. Though their goats and their home are safe, the rest of the property is demolished.
“Everything we built over the last 15 years was washed away,” Carroll said.
Still, Carroll and Wegener said they consider themselves lucky. Co-workers, friends and neighbors, Carroll said, have all come through since the flood.
“We will rebuild, and do what we need to do, but we wouldn’t be able to do it without the strangers, and our family,” Carroll said.