Heavy Snow Takes Toll On Already Burdened Farmers

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(Host) The snows of 2011 are taking their toll on an already overburdened profession.

Eleven dairy barns have collapsed under the weight of successive storms. At least a dozen cows have died and hundreds have been trapped under caved-in roofs and timbers.

For the farms involved, it’s been devastating, as VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Farm worker Cassie Felion was cleaning out calf pens when the big barn at Taylor Farm in Londonderry went down.

It was Sunday morning. She says she noticed that the animals were acting strangely.

(Felion) "They know when something’s about to happen. They were all paying attention towards where the big barn was. And they heard some of the snow come off – I couldn’t hear it but they did. And I came out, and as I just poked my head out on the slab, the barn hit the ground."

(Keese) Felion’s boyfriend Randy also works at Taylor farm. He and a friend had just gone to the barn for a piece of equipment.

Felion says the friend was digging himself out. But she didn’t see Randy.

She points to a four-foot ridge of snow atop the tangled remains of the 290-foot free-stall barn.

(Felion) "That’s how much snow was on top of him."

(Keese) Felion says the friend started digging, while she called 911. Her boyfriend was hospitalized and released with minor injuries.

She also called Jon Wright – a well known cheesemaker and the owner of Taylor farm, who was nearby, getting ready for a sleigh ride.

Wright had a barn collapse in this spot in 2007. He’d built the new barn — he thought — so it wouldn’t happen again.

(Wright) "My immediate reaction was to just give up and sell all the animals."

(Keese) Wright says he’s backed off that conclusion, but he’s still not sure what the future holds.

He did end up selling 20 cows, to take the pressure off the farm. He says he was moved by the quick reaction of area first responders.

(Wright) "Everybody knew just what to do….- we had to cut holes in the roof and through the cross members and then try to lead frightened animals out of the wreckage."

(Keese) There were neighbors, too. Eighty-six year old Ed Johnson was among them.

(Johnson) "There must have been 100, 150 people… and they were trying and get the cows and the horses out, put them down in the other barn."

(Keese) Johnson says it’s lucky that only one cow died. Two days later, in nearby Chester, four cows died when a barn collapsed at the Rhoman Way Farm.

Ray Salmela, who works at that farm, says crews worked all night to shore the building up so the nearly 200 animals could be pulled out.

(Salmela) "And most of em stood up, a couple of them are in bad shape, but like I said 98 percent survived."

(Keese) Salmela says a number of fellow farmers stayed to shovel off the roofs of the farm’s un-damaged barns.

Jon Wright of Taylor Farm says removing this much snow from modern dairy barns is tough.

He says barns used to be sturdy post and beam structures with steep pitched roofs that shed the snow more easily.

Modern barns are built for modern farming technology. They’re better ventilated and allow the cows much more freedom.

But they’re not made for winters like this one.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese in Manchester

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