By Brandy Harrison
VANKLEEK HILL — Yvon Ravary had just left the barn to grab a quick lunch on Dec. 29 when he looked out the window and saw smoke rising from the eaves of the dairy.
“I must have been in the house for only 20 minutes. I didn’t see it or smell anything,” says the Vankleek Hill dairy farmer.
He raced out to the barn with a fire extinguisher but couldn’t see the fire. By the time he broke into the tie-stall with the tractor and front-end loader, the air was choked with dark smoke.
“The fire went through pretty fast. I could only go so far and I had to get out,” says Ravary, who runs Rayvonhill Farms Inc. with his wife, Paulette.
The Ravarys lost 75 cows, 24 calves, and 4 bulls. Sixty heifers in a separate barn upwind were spared but only five bred heifers, two young calves, and a baby calf got out of the burning barn and were moved to neighbour Leonard Howes’ barn.
High winds gusting at 40 to 50 kilometres per hour and a snow dump of about 20 centimetres complicated the work of the four fire departments: Vankleek Hill, L’Orignal, The Nation, and East Hawkesbury. “We had nothing on our side. With the storm and the wind, everything went from bad to worse,” says Vankleek Hill fire chief Michel Martin.
Despite the storm, as many as 20 people showed up at Ravary’s door with food. High hoes from Cliftondale Construction, Wilson’s, and Splendron Farms helped with cleanup. “It was just something else,” says Ravary.
The fire marshal couldn’t pinpoint cause but chalked it up to a loose electrical connection or nibbling mice. Damage is estimated at $1 million. The fire levelled the 90 by 70 ft. barn and four nearby silos likely can’t be salvaged.
The loss of the cows hit hardest, says Ravary, who had steadily improved genetics since he bought the farm from his father in 1978 ,opting for high-type bulls such as Doorman, Windbrook, and Aftershock.
He started reducing the herd last year ahead of a planned selloff this spring and had hoped to sell the best of his herd to area farmers just starting out. “I didn’t want to see them go that way.”
Ravary will likely transition to cash crops, but hasn’t give up on owning a few good cows. “I’m always interested in having good genetics and trying to find the perfect cow family.”