FOXLEY RIVER, P.E.I. - All the milk cows rescued from a dairy farm fire Sunday in Foxley River have already been temporarily dispersed to other herds across the province.
Will Blaauwendraat, who owns Riverview Dairy with his wife, Sarah, saw the glow from the fire when he awoke at 4:30 a.m. to start his workday. His wife was dialing 911 as he dashed for the barn.
Blaauwendraat met farmhand Nick Pettipas in the yard.
“He was about 10 yards in front of me,” Blaauwendraat said. “He ran around to let the back cows out of the main barn that burned. He opened the gate and out they went.”
The owner and farmhand then entered the tie-stall dairy barn as it was filling with smoke, unclipped the milk cows and drove them out. He acknowledged they are fortunate that the cattle are used to being shifted around.
All farm animals, over 70 in all, were rescued, but a large pole barn was destroyed.
Blaauwendraat praised the efforts of four responding fire departments for preventing the fire from spreading to the attached dairy barn.
“They were excellent,” he said.
He acknowledged, in particular, Jonathan Kelly, a neighbour, who is a member of the Tyne Valley Fire Department. “He was pretty awesome.”
Blaauwendraat said the side of the dairy barn, to which the pole barn was attached, will have to be replaced.
Tyne Valley fire Chief William Bishop said the mutual aid call was generated automatically, but he alerted the assisting departments while en route to let them know what they’d be facing.
“It was a mess,” he said, pointing out the pole barn was already fully engulfed.
Four trucks provided a water shuttle, staging it from a nearby bridge.
“We just hit it with everything we had,” Bishop described their attack. “We went in through the milking parlour and tried to push it back through the back.”
The wind blowing away from the milking parlour worked to their advantage, he added.
The Blaauwendraats have been receiving much encouragement since Sunday’s fire.
“I’ve got a lot of phone calls from people who don’t even really know me, and people that I do, for sure; I’ve got a lot of phone calls – companies, businesses: ‘anything we can do to help, let us know,’ ” he said in describing the support.
In addition to fighting the fire, firefighters kept watch over the farm animals.
“They tried to go back in. It was kind of a big job to keep them out. Their intention is to go back,” he said.
Blaauwendraat said by the time they got the cattle out of the barn, initially it was already unsafe for them to go back and close the gate.
He estimates the farm, which he and Sarah took ownership of in April 2014, will be out of production until well into 2018. The milk cows and quota has been transferred to other herds until they are back in production.
The rest of the farm’s herd, including dry cows and pregnant heifers, are being stabled in a neighbour’s barn. The heifers will go to other herds as they freshen but the young cattle will be kept until the farm is back in production.
“I hope to be milking by snowfall of next year,” he said.
“It sounds like a long time but, really, it’s not because there are a lot of steps involved.” He anticipates the rebuilding will start as soon as the weather clears in spring. Heat-damaged silos will have to be replaced as well as the farm’s feed supply and its feed-mixing system.