STEINBACH, Man. — Hundreds of cattle have been killed in a fire that destroyed a large dairy complex in southeastern Manitoba.
The fire broke out sometime before 5 a.m. Monday at the four-barn Pennwood Dairy, northeast of Steinbach.
Kelvin Toews, the community’s fire chief, said there were about 1,000 animals in the barns and about 200 survived.
“It’s a loss of around 800 (cattle). It’s a shame there were animals in the barn. We lost a bunch,” said Toews.
The fire chief said three barns were on fire when crews arrived and the fourth was in flames soon after.
He said an unknown number of people were involved in milking operations in the buildings at the time, but they all got out safely.
Crews from six fire departments fought for hours to control the flames that belched clouds of thick, black smoke across a wide area.
The fire is believed to have started in one of the four metal-clad buildings that were linked to each other.
A damage estimate was not immediately available and investigators from the provincial fire commissioner’s office arrived at the scene later Monday.
Toews said emergency crews would probably be at the scene most of the day for mop-up purposes.
“It’s a tin barn so we have to peel it back and get to the fire. There’s some silage piles on fire, too.”
The fire came as Pennwood Dairy was preparing to expand its herd to about 1,700 cattle. (CHSM)
The Canadian Press
‘It’s unsettling:’ Ranchers and feedlots worried about future impact of COVID-19
CREMONA, Alta. — A cacophony of bellowing cattle makes it hard to hear the other hoof drop, but rancher Bruce Bird knows that it’s coming.
Bird runs a cow-calf operation and had to shout to be heard during annual branding last week on his ranch near Cremona, 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary.
Over a hundred calves were run through a chute and locked onto a table to have ear tags applied and a mark seared onto their sides.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t had a serious effect on Bird yet, but he’s anticipating it will be tougher when the calves are sold in the fall.
“Absolutely, we’re going to get hit eventually,” he said. “There’s usually a big ripple effect prolonged. It’s a long, long gradual time until it can rectify itself.”
“There’s some marketing issues, some commodity issues … that are really slow to hit us. But when it hits us, it hits us extra hard.”
A concern for Bird and neighbour Chelsey Reid, who farms with her husband, Scott, is a backlog of beef at feedlots.
The Cargill plant in High River, Alta., shut down for two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak there and is now operating at about 60 per cent capacity. The JBS plant in Brooks, Alta., reduced its operations to just one shift a day until recently. The two meat-packers process 70 per cent of Canada’s beef.
“There’s always what we call the fall run. That’s when there’s always a lot of beef on the market, but we always have the capacity for it, so it’s not that big of a problem,” Reid said.
“If people aren’t able to sell their calves this fall, that’s going to be a real problem.”
Reid said the uncertainty is the most unsettling part.
“Our farms are just sort of carrying on as they always have. Anything that’s going to be negative … is going to be happening come this fall and probably in 2021,” she said.
“A lot of us young farmers have a lot of payments that we’re tied into, so it definitely is worrisome. It’s a lot of money that we definitely rely on.”
Tom Thorlakson said there are animals at his family’s feedlot near Airdrie that were supposed to have been shipped to meat plants in mid-April.
“We have cattle that we wish were gone. We’re not buying anything,” said Thorlakson, vice-president of Thorlakson Feedyards.
There are 14,000 cattle at the feedlot and feed costs are running to about $1 million a month, he said.
“When are we ever going to know when the plants will be up to full capacity? It will be the ever-going threat we’re living with right now.”
Thorlakson said he’s heard the cattle backlog could exist until December. And although his family feedlot will be OK, it won’t be the same for others.
“It pushes it back to the rancher right? If a lot of the guys are not buying, the guys selling their calves will be getting a lot less money for them because there’ll be less demand,” he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of guys in hardship.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
Is the Meat Industry Equipped to Handle a Pandemic?
Is the Meat Industry Equipped to Handle a Pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted industries across the world. One of the main sectors that’s concerning experts is the meat and agriculture industry. This concern intensifies in Western Canada since much of the land there is farmland. The imbalance of supply and demand is affecting present-day agricultural production. However, farmers and industry leaders are focused on what is still to come in the future.
From labour shortages to potential outbreaks during production, the future of the meat industry is unclear. The outcome will depend on several factors: government aid, the spread of the virus and COVID-19’s behaviour — which is often unpredictable. Ultimately, the present handling of the meat industry may impact its future and relationship with consumers.
The Government of Canada recently decided to assist farms across the country with federal funding. These farms rely on the production and exportation of meats like beef, pork and chicken to reach supply and demand needs. However, as the virus continues spreading, farmworkers need to maintain physical distance and increase sanitation practices. The government’s funding will compensate workers during this time.
For Canada, part of the stress on the industry comes from the exportation needs. While farmers need to meet country-wide demands, Canada is also an international exporter, especially for the United States.
While the industry is currently suffering from labour shortages, production remains relatively stable. Farmers are adapting to meet new supply and demand requirements. For instance, since restaurants are closing, demands for certain foods, like cheese, will decrease. As workers fall ill and farms need to enforce social distancing, though, production is slowing down.
The funding from Canada’s federal government is supposed to help workers, especially those who are newly arriving. Migrants from Mexico and the Caribbean make up a large portion of Canada’s agricultural workforce. However, whether this funding will be enough is yet to come to light. Additionally, ensuring the even distribution of that money to migrant workers is another issue.
The Industry’s Future
Many experts are focusing on the road ahead. While the current path is fluctuating, the future may hold a more dangerous outcome for the industry. If the virus continues spreading at its current rate, farms may see more issues than ever before.
One of the main factors is the labour shortage. Currently, Canada’s farming labour force is lacking. Production is slow, and workers don’t have the resources and help they need to meet demands. In the future, this could worsen as fewer employees are available. For instance, the poultry sector faces significant demands every day. Part of the process of raising chickens includes weeks of tending to them. If there aren’t enough people to do this job, consumers will see the availability of chicken drop.
The issue of perishables will also present itself. As meat processing must be quick, slower production means more goods will go to waste. Meeting supply and demand requires healthy workers to keep the chain going.
The other major factor that will affect the industry is the spread of the virus. That depends on how the Canadian government handles COVID-19 and how efficiently people practice social distancing. Federal funding will aid production, but if the virus remains present, it will continue spreading. If it reaches processing plants, contamination will become a more serious issue than it already is.
To increase resources and support for farmers and migrant workers, the government will need to provide more emergency funding. This step allows the agriculture industry to invest in more tools, sanitation products, financial support and benefits for all workers. Monitoring the spread of the virus is also crucial. If the government can properly track and isolate cases, COVID-19 will dwindle in its effects. Then, meat industry workers will not have to worry about contracting or spreading the coronavirus.