Well-known dairy farmer rebuilds after losing barns, cattle to fire

1 / 3
Well-known dairy farmer rebuilds after losing barns, cattle to fire

Peter Ruiter's family farm went up in flames almost a year ago, but the well-known dairy farmer is planning a comeback.  

On Sept. 8, 2017, Ruiter lost three barns — one of them a heritage barn — and 80 cattle died on his Blackrapids farm in Nepean. The damage was estimated at over $1 million. 

Ruiter, an outspoken farmer who advocates for the farming community, could have walked way and retired.

It was a hard decision to make, he said, but he missed his cows and he missed the job. 

"The big thing is, I never worked for the money. I loved what I did and yes I made a comfortable living," Ruiter told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"Holidays aren't high on my list and days off aren't high on my list. You know, anybody out there, if you love what you're doing, it doesn't seem like work."

"The biggest adjustment in this is I'm missing my cows," he said. "I've been fortunate. I've got lots of [farmer] neighbours I can check in on and get my cow fix, and my wife just thinks that's completely hilarious."

There are some worries about getting back to business. U.S. President Donald Trump's distaste for supply management — something Ruiter stands firmly behind — would make any farmer uneasy. But Ruiter said his banker isn't scared, and that's the important part. 

"Oh it's a gamble. Any business prof will tell you you're crazy."

Ruiter said it'll be an efficient family farm when it's rebuilt. He's upgraded new equipment and will have robots to milk the cows and feed cattle and calves. 

He added that he had insurance on his equipment, but those funds wouldn't have covered everything to be able to start the farm back up again.  

One piece of equipment used to feed the cows was valued at $20,000, so insurance paid that amount. 

"The reality is at the end of the day to buy a brand new one, it's $65,000.... I'm $40,000 short," he said. "And that's with almost everything in the barn. I have milking equipment, it was covered for $15,000, but to replace it, it's $100,000. Those differences, you have to make up."

The cost of rebuilding the farm may have been out of Ruiter's reach without the help of his friends, and the National Capital Commission.

The farm, Ruiter said, is on NCC land, so they're working together to build the barn and he's putting the equipment inside.

And friends and members of the farming community rallied together to clean up from the fire and planned a festival, with all proceeds going to the Ruiter family. 

"Without the help of the community, I wouldn't have been able to do this," he said.