By Connor Lynch
EAST HAWKESBURY — Feb. 13 was a snow day for many living in and around urban Ottawa, as over 30 cm of snow came down in less than 24 hours. But as far away as East Hawkesbury, about an hour east near the Quebec border, the heavy snowfall was more than an inconvenience.
Dairy farmer Keith Wyman was milking with his son Jacob at around 6 p.m. when he heard the cracking sounds. By 6:45 p.m., he’d finished milking and went with his son into the hayloft to see what was happening.
By 7:30 p.m., the roof had collapsed. In those 45 minutes, all Wyman could do was watch and wait to see if the buckling roof would destroy the entire barn and his 140-head herd. “That was probably the worst part. Waiting, knowing it was going to go down.”
Fortunately, when the roof finally did give way, it only cracked some of the beams in the roof. Where there was hay in the loft to cushion the buckling roof, the beams stayed intact. The interior of the barn was unaffected.
He phoned his insurance that night; they arrived the next day. So too did new beams to go up alongside the old. The cracked beams were repaired and jacked up. The Wymans didn’t miss a milking.
But the collapse had come as a complete surprise. The 55-year-old barn had survived bad weather before, and Wyman said he’d never had a need to clear it before.
By Feb. 20, Wyman had removed his 500 bales of hay from the collapsed loft and was putting in plastic tarps to protect the interior of the barn from more inclement weather. Much of the debris had been cleared, though much remained. “It’s a terrible mess,” he said.
Despite the heavy snowfall, OMAFRA hasn’t gotten any reports of roof collapses due to snow or ice, said OMAFRA’s livestock structure engineer, Steve Beadle. Farmers Forum has heard of one collapse in Eastern Ontario and one in Northern Ontario.
Barn roofs also vary in strength across the province he said. All else being equal, a roof on a barn in Ottawa will take about 23 per cent more weight in snow than will a barn roof in London, Ontario.
If you’re clearing snow off your barn, Beadle recommends a long-handled, telescoping scraper shovel. “Never use a snow blower or other machine,” he said. “Never climb onto the roof.”
Ottawa was pounded by 97 cm in January, making it the snowiest January on record. February was also above normal for snowfall.