No doubt, this has been a hard winter in the Northeast. As reported by the Associated Press (2011) this week, "Farmers in Connecticut alone have lost at least 136 barns, greenhouses, sheds and other structures as snow measured in feet, not inches, accumulated while January passed without a thaw." The article goes on to share that 85,000 chickens were killed in one such collapse, and 25 dairy cows were killed in another while 200 were saved (The Associated Press, 2011).
These incidences are tragic to their farm owner's--family men and women. In many cases, when such tragedies happen, they can put the farm operation out of business if insurance is not set in place accordingly, or at the very least take years to recover. I can personally account of such hardships that has fallen on my family and our neighbors. In February of 2004, our central region of Pennsylvania was hard hit with an ice storm after a winter of accumulating snow fall. Our dairy free stall barn collapsed in one corner on that fateful Saturday and neighboring farmers and friends spent 5 hours shoveling off the roof before more damage was done. But that was not the end.
The next afternoon, as my uncle and our one farm employee were ushering the cows into the holding area for milking, they heard the trusses crack above the milking parlor. Before long they were up on the roof shoveling again. We had not bothered shoveling this portion the day before because the snow was slowly falling off, though not as fast as usual. But the straw that broke the camel's back came earlier in the afternoon--the snow on the bank barn roof that hanged above the parlor finally fell onto the designated surface--and the snow still didn't fall off like it was supposed to. So there they were shoveling in a frenzy to save the parlor. It was not to be, within 20 minutes the trusses gave way and the nightmare we were trying to prevent came true.
Like most communities in a time of need, ours found their way to our farm that afternoon, shoveling the rest of the snow off the roof and cleaning up the parlor to return it to working order. The hours rolled on the and cows grew increasing anxious. We opened the holding area back up to the rest of the barn, but no more than a few animals moved. Routine is very important with dairy cows and they knew it was time to get milked. So the girls waited and waited. Instead of being milked on schedule at 3 PM, they didn't get the chance until 10PM--and milking took an hour longer due to the cows lengthened time since the morning milking. We all milked by construction lights and in between make-shift support beams. Even more tiring, we only got a few hours of rest in between before we were back out at 4 AM to milk again--to keep the girls on schedule.
It was a stressful and scary time for my family, but the support we saw from neighbors was overwhelming. The wife of that employee I talked about went to the store and spent the rest of the afternoon with my mother making snacks and coffee and the like for the 20 plus extra workers we had on the farm that day. The local contractor gave us planks and poles needed to jack up the ceiling, and servicemen from the dairy supply company spent their Sunday afternoon rebuilding the pulsation lines and other milking equipment.
Yet we were one of the lucky ones. Our farm lost no animals that weekend and had sufficient insurance to completely repair the milking parlor within 3 weeks, as well as the free stall barn by the end of the following summer, but not without a fight. There are farm families out there that have not been as lucky--they have struggled for years until they have recovered, and some never had the chance to. In any case, a barn fire or collapse has a long impact on those that they affect, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce--where life as you know it has changed substantially.
The Associated Press. (2011). Farmers Watch Harsh Winter Crush Their Livelihoods. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=6314721199989313412