Losing the cows the toughest part of dairy farm fire - owner

Eric McCarthy
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DOCK -- The dairy farmer who lost his barns and most of his herd in Friday’s Dock Road inferno confirmed Sunday he plans to rebuild his operation.

Kent Rennie said he is starting his rebuilding plans right away but will wait until winter has passed before starting construction.

He is still reeling from the loss and has not placed an estimate on the value of his loss but admits the monetary value is not the worst. “It’s the cows. That’s really what I find tough,” he said.

The loss is insured.

Rennie estimates there were between 140 and 150 head of livestock in his dairy barn and attached pole barn. His herd consisted of 57 milk cows as well as young cattle and about 10 dry cows. He and farm workers managed to unchain the dairy cows but they were only about to rescue seven animals before the fire chased them from the barns. He said they might have actually gotten more than seven animals out but some people thought they noticed cows re-entering the barn. “They want to stay with the herd; there’s not much you can do,” he admitted.

Rennie acknowledged some passers-by offered to go into the barns to help rescue his animals but he said it was unsafe for them to do so.

After giving up on the dairy barn, Rennie turned his attention to trying to rescue animals from the attached pole barn . “I was dumbfounded how fast the heifer barn disappeared,“ he said, concluding later the Styrofoam insulation must have caused a flash fire the likes of which might have prevented anyone from getting out had they been in that barn at the time. “You couldn’t set a foot inside the door,” he recalled.

The fire broke out high in the loft just before noon Friday. Alberton Volunteer Fire Department immediately called in the neighbouring departments of West Point, O’Leary, Miminegash and Tignish for assistance.

Alberton fire chief Tom Murphy said it was a great effort by all involved. He said many of his department members had only a few hours of sleep from handling Halloween calls the night before yet 26 of his 30 members were in attendance. He said Tignish Fire Department members probably only had about two hours of sleep and the Miminegash firefighters had been up all night.

By 5 p.m. Friday only the Alberton fire fighters were still on the scene and they stayed until 2 a.m. Saturday.

Murphy said the response involved a great effort by all attending departments, hauling water and protecting exposures. A house and car garage, mechanical shop, grain tanks and silos were the focus of their efforts. About 300,000 gallons of water were pumped on the fire and the exposures. Four local farmers joined the water shuttle for the response and others were involved in helping to haul away rubble and animal carcases for burial.

Rennie said clean-up was completed by 4:30 a.m. Saturday. He acknowledged the support of the fire departments and everyone else, admitting some of it is still a blur. He said the aftermath would have been tough to get back up to on Saturday had everything not been hauled away.

The dairy farm was started by Rennie’s parents, Fred and Eva, in the early 1960s. He took over in 2000.

His father still assists him with the operation. The loss, he said, is a big one for the farm’s long-time hired hand, Jimmy McAssey, who has worked there full time since at least 1986, and for two young men, Matt Bowness and Nathan Campbell, who provide relief milking.

The seven surviving animals are currently being cared for at the Dale and Ronnie Rennie farm in Alma.

Rennie’s parents, who lived in the house on the farmstead, have taken up temporary accommodations with his sister and brother-in-law, Kim and Iver Bowness in Huntley while a disaster clean-up company works to rid their house of smoke from the fire.

Organizations: Alberton Volunteer Fire Department, Tignish Fire Department

Geographic location: Dock Road, West Point, Tignish Alma Huntley

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  • BeaElliott
    November 05, 2013 - 19:04

    I can't even imagine the terror these animals must have experienced before an even more horrible death. The suffering is unacceptable in the course of any product that wishes to be considered "humane" in the eyes of the public. Keeping this many nonhumans inside a potential inferno is the result of meat, dairy and egg production. Thankfully there are many more better choices that don't use innocent animals as commodities or as resources. Opting for a compassionate and healthy plant based vegan diet is the best way I know to avoid this kind of merciless death.