By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — Where there were once dead cows, burnt timber and a vacant hole where a vision for the future once stood, walls have been erected, concrete poured, and excitement returned.
Ottawa farmer, Peter Ruiter, who farms in the south end of the city, is rebuilding his barn and hoping to be milking again by Nov. 15.
It was neither a cheap nor easy decision to make. Supply management was, by all accounts, in the crosshairs during NAFTA negotiations, and it was a big decision for Ruiter who was closer to retirement than getting started. He also farms on National Capital Commission land that he leases.
Last September, Ruiter was interrupted while having his lunch, during an ordinary day on the farm. The man at the door rang the doorbell just after 1 p.m. “Your barn’s on fire.” By 1:07 p.m., Ruiter was saying sorry to the cows he couldn’t save.
The bulk of the herd, carrying with it 60 years of genetics, was gone. About 16 cows were saved.
Ruiter took the winter to think about what he wanted to do. Rebuilding from scratch was a daunting proposition.
The spring and summer have been a blitz of activity. On May 1, the Ruiters applied for and got their permit to rebuild. The foundation was poured on June 1. Since then, Eastern Ontario barn builder Gary Nyentap has been working, raising walls. The wooden frames stand, outlining what will, hopefully soon, be a modernized dairy barn.
It’s going to be a transition for Ruiter. He’s going from a tie-stall to a freestall, installing a robotic milker as well as a robotic feeder. The barn will have room for his cattle from when they’re born to when they’re shipped off. It’s also about 25 per cent bigger than his old barn, and will hold 145 animals altogether, 60 of which he’ll be milking.
Ruiter held onto his quota after the fire, and bought up some more to accommodate his larger barn. On July 16, there was much that had been done, and still much left to do. Supplies were arriving daily, an exact decision on flooring still had to be made (the cows will be on mats, not sand, but exactly what type, Ruiter wasn’t sure yet).
It’s an exciting time but a time he wants to put behind him. He just wants to start milking again.