Providing a roof over the heads of our animals is easier said than done this year. Record-breaking snow totals are crushing barns throughout the State, leaving dairy farmers discouraged and working extra long hours to either prevent or repair problems in record-breaking cold temperatures this winter.

As New Yorkers, we are used to receiving snow. In fact, it’s one of the things I love about New York – that we have four distinct seasons and one of them is a true winter! I think snow is beautiful. It’s pristine, making a dull, brown landscape clean again and filled with hope for another productive season.

Shoveling the roof off at Meyer Dairy Farm before freezing rain came, which would have added more weight to the roof.

Shoveling the roof off at Meyer Dairy Farm before freezing rain came, which would have added more weight.

While beautiful to witness and fun to play in, snow can be a blessing in disguise. Snow is a form of precipitation and thus aids in soil moisture, critical to growing crops in the summer. So that’s a huge plus! However, if we receive too much snow, we have issues. Case in point: 2015.

As a dairy farm family myself, we have spent much of this winter simply moving snow. We are a regular business in this sense. Milk trucks, feed trucks, veterinarians, regular deliveries and cows (not to mention employees) all need to move in and out of the barnyard. So snow must go. While time (and fuel) consuming, plowing snow is fairly harmless work.

The issue comes when our barn roofs accumulate snow and the temperature stays cold. Much like you all do for your homes, sometimes we have to manually move snow off our barn roofs. Also like you, this is not an easy or beloved task – and there are only so many hours in the day to get things done on top of the regular chores on a farm.

Many farms have run out of daylight this season, dealing with all the other challenges of operating a dairy farm in the cold. My heart is about as heavy as the snow for the farms who have lost this battle this winter. It’s a tragedy really. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County estimates that 49 barns have come down this year due to snow. The loss of such a significant structure can be emotionally and financially draining on a farm family. They may lose animals in the process. It means more work, more money, more hours in the day – some or all of which they may not have.

One dairy farmer, Dana Rudgers, posted the following on Facebook the following sentiments,

“Yesterday I posted pictures of winter’s awe inspiring beauty. Winter also can produce horrific results. Dairy barns in the area are collapsing from the tremendous weight of snow and ice, with snow totals for the season approaching 200 inches. Modern dairy barns are 100 plus feet wide and up to 500 feet long, each housing hundreds of cattle. Many farms have multiple barns. The task of clearing snow from the sheer area of roof is daunting and nearly impossible. The blood sweat and tear filled efforts that dairy farm families and their friends and neighbors are putting forth during this unprecedented winter from hell is nothing short of heroic.”

Dana is right. These barn roofs are huge! Check out this aerial photo of Fesko Farm in the Finger Lakes. This family was lucky to only lose a portion of their roof on the long barn on the right of the photo. In the farmer’s words, “This is not the roof we normally worry about. We are very thankful that no one was hurt. Two cows were injured. One will recover but the other had severe injuries to her back and we don’t think she will make it. We are sad to lose a cow but grateful that it is only one.”
Fesko Farms Aerial

Some farmers fared much worse, like the Young family in Cortland County, who just this week lost a significant portion of their barn, along with 5 cows and left 12 injured. However, the outpouring of support during these incidents is heart warming. Volunteer fire departments have shown up in full force to aid in the rescue of animals. Friends and family, neighbors and even strangers have come out in masses to lend a hand, bringing with them equipment to aid in the clean up, trailers to truck animals to neighboring farms, shovels to move snow, hot coffee, casseroles, hugs and more. The outpouring of support in these rural communities is something that needs to be seen to believe. It’s incredible and it’s real.

We aren’t out of the weeds yet. The month of March can present a number of different scenarios and there is still a lot of snow out there. Let’s all say an extra prayer that spring is around the corner and that our farmers and their animals stay safe these next couple of weeks.