Manitoba

Animal rights group holds memorial for 800 cows dead in fire near Steinbach

About a dozen animal rights activists showed up at a memorial Friday night to mourn the loss of 800 dairy cows that died in a dramatic barn fire northeast of Steinbach, Man., this week.

'They were already suffering, and then to die in that type of matter is just horrific,' says member of group

Eleven people took part in a vigil in Steinbach Friday night for the 800 cows that perished in a barn fire this month. (Supplied by Manitoba Animal Save)

The public shouldn't just shrug off horrific barn fires, say activists at a memorial Friday night to mourn the deaths of 800 dairy cows in a dramatic fire earlier this week.

The small group of animal rights activists brought flowers and held up signs along a gravel road near the farm, northeast of Steinbach, Man. Sign messages included, "We will not forget," and, "Cows are sentient beings whose lives matter."

"Our society doesn't really value the lives of cows and pigs and chickens that much, so people are surprised to hear we're going out to sort of stand in remembrance of them," said Danae Tonge with Manitoba Animal Save.

"All animals matter, whether they're animals we keep as pets or animals that people are using for food. They're all individuals who didn't want to die and they certainly didn't want to die like that."

The fire began early Monday morning and engulfed four connected farm buildings at Pennwood Dairy.

It took about 60 firefighters from surrounding municipalities to tame the blaze. Only 200 of the 1,000 animals in the buildings survived.

Watch firefighters douse the blaze:

A massive fire at one of Manitoba's largest dairy farms has destroyed a barn that held about 1,000 cows. (Video courtesy: SteinbachOnline) 0:55

Pennwood is one of the largest milk producers in Manitoba; an average dairy farm has around 130 cows, according to the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba.

Tonge said Manitoba Animal Save raises awareness about slaughterhouses and anywhere "animals are being exploited."

She said barn fires resulting in mass livestock deaths appear to be on the rise in recent years in Manitoba.

Firefighters battling a barn fire northeast of Steinbach on Monday morning. (Steinbach Online)

"Those animals should've never been in that barn in the first place," said Tonge.

"If they were people that had perished in that way, people would be outraged and calling for investigations and all these measures to be taken to ensure that never happens again."

An animal welfare consultant with the Winnipeg Humane Society estimated earlier this week that about 40,000 pigs have died in barn fires over the past decade, and 27,000 chickens were killed in a fire a few months ago.

Cheryl Sobie, also with Manitoba Animal Save, said the cattle that died in the recent fire deserve to be remembered "for the individuals that they were."

Smoke clouds around a smouldering barn that held about 1,000 dairy cows. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

"They were already suffering, and then to die in that type of matter is just horrific," she said.

"We see animals as people, as persons, as deserving of protection, so we think it's really important that we share their stories and we personify them. We don't think they're objects, we don't think they're property, so it's really important to us that we mark this."

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Office of the Fire Commissioner of Manitoba.

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