Recent snowstorms are being blamed for a pair of barn collapses in Central Alberta that required rescue operations for trapped livestock on Sunday afternoon.
About two dozen dairy cows died in Lacombe County when about half the roof of a barn caved in.
“It was a portion of a barn, probably about a 150-foot section, with 100 cattle in there that came down because of the snow load on the roof,” said Bentley Fire Chief Todd Gustafson.
Volunteer firefighters from Bentley, Lacombe and Ponoka were called in and managed to rescue about 75 cows from the farm on Woody Nook Road about 15 km southeast of Bentley.
Given the extent of the damage to the barn and the number of animals inside “how many cows walked out of there was kind of mind boggling,” he said.
About 25 firefighters were involved in the rescue operation, including Ponoka’s emergency livestock trailer, that began about 3 p.m. and didn’t wrap until 1:30 a.m.
There were people inside the barn at the time of the collapse but they got out safely.
At almost the same time on Sunday, volunteer firefighters and rescue team members in Red Deer County were called into action for a similar emergency.
Volunteers were called to the dairy barn on Range Road 272, about six km south of Red Deer, about 3:45 p.m. On arriving, they found that the roof of the barn that held 114 cows had collapsed, trapping some inside.
“Pretty much the whole length of the barn collapsed in a V-formation,” said Ric Henderson, the county’s director of community and protective services.
Fortunately, the way the roof collapsed left voids on each side so the owner was able to extricate all of the dairy cows but six.
“Basically where the animals were trapped there was enough room for them to stand,” he said. The tin roof fell on to the cows’ backs, who were standing in their metal-barred enclosures.
Rescue crews had to shore up the barn before crews could go in.
“You always worry about a secondary collapse,” said Henderson. A number of enclosures had to be moved to free the cows.
Tom Wyntjes, owner of the dairy farm, was impressed with the county’s response.
“It was pretty awesome the way they handled things there,” said Wyntjes, whose family has been dairy farming in the area since 1961.
“It took probably an hour to get the first (cow) out. Then we had to move everything to the north end and start a different plan of attack, and then it probably took an hour to get the remaining five out.”
The cows were checked by a vet on scene and found to have only minor injuries.
It’s believed the recent dumps of snow are to blame for the collapse, he said.
“We’re assuming it’s snow load.”
Whether the barn will be covered by insurance is still to be determined.
Wyntjes said the cows will be moved to another family-owned dairy barn nearby.
About 20 county volunteers were on scene during the rescue, including 10 members of the technical rescue team. They are not firefighters but are trained in structural collapses, confined space, swift water and rope rescues.
Wyntjes’s neighbours also helped out with the cows.
The county is warning its residents to monitor snow and ice build-up on buildings.