Saskatchewan

Fire destroys milking barn at Sask. dairy farm 9 months after opening

Joseph Mosher and Kristin Shantz spent years planning their dream farm near Paynton, Sask. Now, they're not sure if they can rebuild after a devastating fire Tuesday night.

'The barn had flames from one end to the other and the roof was already falling in,' says Paynton-area farmer

The milking barn at Delta Dairy is a complete loss after fire ripped through the building around 11 p.m. on July 23, 2019. Six calves died in the blaze. (Submitted by Kristin Shantz)

A Saskatchewan dairy farming family is unsure they can rebuild after a fire destroyed their milking barn just nine months after opening. 

Joseph Mosher and Kristin Shantz began operating Delta Dairy in November 2018 near Paynton, Sask., just over 50 kilometres northwest of North Battleford. 

Mosher was helping his neighbour bale hay late Tuesday night when Shantz came out to the field with his supper. That's when the two noticed their barn was on fire.

"I came past the trees of our neighbour's yard and just couldn't believe what I was looking at," Shantz said in a phone call from the area Friday.

"The barn had flames from one end to the other and the roof was already falling in."

The dairy farmers are both trained volunteer firefighters, with experience in similar situations, but Mosher said seeing his own barn in flames was a "nightmare."

"The first thing I did was cut the power and the gas off," he said. "But that building was so far gone."

All that was left of the Delta Dairy milking barn the morning after the fire. (Submitted by Kristin Shantz)

Mosher said his truck, parked next to the barn, was already burnt when he got there. Fortunately, it wasn't too late for his cows. 

"We got there at just the perfect time because [the cows] were actually getting ready to come inside the barn because the barn's their home — they try to go where they feel safe," he said. 

The couple managed to save their entire milk herd of 56 cows, along with six calves that were shown earlier that day. 

However, six calves, including one they were keeping as a herd sire, died in the fire. 

"My kids were pretty heartbroken," Mosher said. "They feed the calves and work with them all the time."

Six Delta Dairy calves were taken out to an open show in Rosthern, Sask., the day of the fire, and left in an outside tent where they were spared from the blaze on July 23. (Submitted by Kristin Shantz)

Shantz said their four children, ranging in age from one to 11, spent a lot of time in the barn. 

"Our 11-year-old and four-year-old were pretty shook up that night," she said.

"The calves that were in the barn were their babies. They were in the barn all the time, playing with everybody, so [the boys] are taking it pretty hard."

With help from the industry association SaskMilk, Mosher was able to find a space for 51 of his milking cows on a farm near Laird, about 160 kilometres east of Paynton. 

Joseph Mosher and Kristin Shantz, pictured with five-month-old daughter Katie, during the first milking at Delta Dairy in November 2018. (Submitted by Kristin Shantz)

'How do you rebuild?'

Mosher said the fire, which gutted the barn, started in the attic and was caused either by an electrical issue or lightning from a storm in the area that night.

The couple said milk productivity only became consistent in the last two months, after an extremely cold February wreaked havoc with the cows. 

"It was starting to look good," Shantz said. "We were starting to look at 'OK, we're going to improve this section of the barn' and put in some stuff for the cows so that things go a little easier." 

Mosher said it took them a while to nail down a time for an insurance evaluation on the barn, but arranged for one on July 19. 

The company, however, had to reschedule for the following Thursday — two days after the fire.

"We're not even sure if we're insured enough to rebuild or what, so we're not even sure what's going on right now," Mosher said.

"You're sitting there going, like, 'how do you rebuild?' Your milk income is only so much money. Your debt load is already so much."

The dairy farmers didn't have a chance to install their new automatic calf feeder, which was damaged in the fire. (Submitted by Kristin Shantz)

Brenda Hult, a family friend and fire chief of the Paynton volunteer fire department, started a GoFundMe page and is helping organize a fundraising event for the family. 

A supper, silent auction and dance will be held on Aug. 17 at the Paynton gym to "make up for what insurance will not cover and what is needed to get this company back up and running," according to a Facebook post by Hult.

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