let's talk farm animals

Recalling one barn fire story during Fire Prevention Week

By Patricia Grotenhuis, 6th generation farmer

The heifer barn before the fire.

The heifer barn before the fire.

Waking to pounding at the door at 1:45 a.m. one June morning, we struggled to open our eyes. Nothing could have prepared us for the sight of flames shooting out of our barn. As my husband raced outside yelling a thank you to the girls who were at the door, I rushed for the phone to call for help. We already knew the barn could not be saved, but were immediately aware that the other buildings were in danger if the flames spread.
We had no idea if all of the heifers were outside on pasture. With our setup, they have the freedom to move back and forth between the barn and pasture as they please. We had to make sure the ones who were on pasture did not return to the barn, though.

What was left after the fire.

Animals have areas where they feel safe and protected, and they will run there if something scares them. For many farm animals, that safe area is the barn. They know that usually they are comfortable, sheltered and content there. Unfortunately, they cannot understand that in some cases, their safe place is the most unsafe place to be. When my husband reached the pasture gate, the heifers were already almost there. He swung the gate quickly to keep them on pasture, and once my father and mother-in-law arrived, they helped herd them to the furthest pasture from the barn to keep them away from the fire. It was the middle of the night, and although the fire gave an eerie light to the sky, it was not bright enough to see how many of “the girls” had been saved.

Thankfully, our story has a happy ending. Every heifer was safe, and the firefighters were able to save the other buildings on the farm as well as the silo where the feed was stored. It could have been much worse, and we are forever grateful for that fact.

Death tolls rise when spooked animals return to the barn, or refuse to leave it. It is no fault of the farmers; it is animal instinct that causes those losses. For some animals, such as horses, putting a blanket or jacket over their head so that they can’t see in front of them will help the farmer to lead them to safety. Other animals are more difficult to save.

The inside of the barn.

For information on helping livestock in an emergency, including barn fires, please visit the Livestock Emergency Resources section of the Farm & Food Care website.

Not all fires can have the same outcome as ours, but by familiarizing yourself with the information available, you will have a chance to improve the outcome. What better time to discover and review these resources than during Fire Prevention Week?


Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 8th, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Barn fires
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