'It's your livelihood:' Ottawa farmers react to fire at Blackrapids barns

Members of the agriculture community in the Ottawa area are responding to the Friday fire that destroyed Peter Ruiter's family dairy farm.

80 cattle are dead, valued at approximately $2K a head

Firefighters say there were about 80 cattle inside a barn that caught fire Friday afternoon near Prince of Wales Drive and Fallowfield Road. (Courtesy of Ottawa Fire Services)

Farmers say the kind of destruction at the Blackrapids farm in Nepean is the worst thing that could happen to a dairy farmer.

The fire started at 1 p.m. Friday and burned for hours, destroying three barn structures and killing 80 cattle. Only a dozen cows survived on the family farm operated by Peter Ruiter. Firefighters estimated the damage was over $1 million.

Nick Thurler, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario board member representing the Ottawa area, said he has known Ruiter for almost 20 years.

"It is the worst thing that could happen. It's your livelihood, you worked on it for your whole life," he told CBC News Friday night.

"There's no amount of money that can replace that."

Peter Ruiter spoke to CBC News on his farm earlier this year about trade issues related to supply management. (CBC News)

Thurler said Ruiter is well known among local dairy farmers as an outspoken advocate for the industry. Thurler heard about the fire via texts and calls from other dairy farmers.

Neighbours said Ruiter's farm was often opened for school tours and he was always promoting farming to the community.

Fire destroyed generations of work

Harry Bennett met the Ottawa farmer while selling farming supplies in the 1990s. He said the worst part is the loss of the cows, which Ottawa firefighters said are valued at $2,500 a head.

"It's their genetics, it's the quality of the livestock," Bennett told CBC News. 

"An animal might be worth $2,500 dollars but one of those cows could've been one of the top producers in the herd and she could have offspring that are also top producers in the herd. And that's irreplacable."

'I hope they rebound'

Bennett said he hopes the Ruiters will be able to rebuild and there will be some kind of benefit event to help deal with the unexpected costs.

"His family is well-known in the farming community, well-respected. I hope they rebound and continue on," he said.

Thurler said he passed on news of the fire to the headquarters of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario in Mississauga, but he doesn't know of any organized plan to help the Ruiter family.

"In a case like that, the fellow farmers come together and try to help a fellow out as much they can. I'm not sure what's going to happen."