Farmers helping farmers.
The dairy industry is tight in British Columbia, but before flood waters rolled on to Abbotsford farmer Richard Bosma’s property, he and Chilliwack dairy farmer Duane Barg didn’t know each other.
But on Monday Bosma and Barg stood shoulder to shoulder on Barg’s Prest Road farm as their cows faced each other across the barn floor.
Both relatively small operators, Bosma’s 75 cows were rescued from his Dixon Road farm and found a home alongside Barg’s 75 head of cattle.
Bosma was told he had to evacuate from his farm near near Highway 1 early on Nov. 16.
“They said ‘you have to evacuate’ but we responded that ‘we are staying and we have cows to milk.’”
Bosma wasn’t alone as the BC Dairy Association (BC Dairy) said an estimated 6,000 cattle were evacuated to other farms in the Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Agassiz areas.
An estimated 500 cows have so far died in the flooding.
“It is possible the number of deceased cattle may rise should more flooding occur or more animals need to be euthanized due to health problems caused by the flooding,” BC Dairy said.
When he realized how dire the situation was on Nov. 16, Barg contacted BC Dairy to say he had space at his barns at Hildan Farms on Prest Road.
“I said I had room for 75 in my barns,” Barg said. “It happened quickly. I called at 9 a.m. and they were coming at 11 a.m. A lot of guys were moving cows.”
He said the Kooymans, owners of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, the largest dairy farm on the province, took 700 cows alone. Barg’s friend Brian Goertzen who is currently not operating as a dairy farm took 200 at his property nearby.
It’s a good thing volunteers acted quickly.
“My baby cows were already up to their chins in water,” Bosma said of his 100 calves that are now housed on another property.
While they saved all 100, his neighbour wasn’t so lucky.
“He lost 100 head. They had to be euthanized.”
The other issue facing dairy farmers is a shortage of feed. Bosma said his hay bales washed away, and while his corn silage might be OK, he certainly can’t access it.
So Bosma’s cows are sharing feed with Barg’s. Both men seemed confident the cows will be OK, but they are short on feed and what they are getting is going to be expensive.
Bosma said alfalfa prices were already at record levels before the flooding.
Between lost equipment, lost production, it’s hard to estimate the cost to farmers forced to flee their properties.
“We are not the biggest operation but this could be a million-dollar setback for us,” he said.
As of last week, 62 farms in the Abbotsford and Yarrow areas were under evacuation orders.
BC Dairy chair and farmer Holger Schwichtenberg said the association is working with the province, transport companies, farmers, and volunteers to ensure cattle remaining on impacted farms are housed, fed and watered.
– with files from Vikki Hopes
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