Yukon farmer saves his cows from collapsed barn

Loren Sadlier, a dairy farmer near Dawson City, Yukon, was just heading out to milk his cows last Wednesday when he noticed it. 

"The barn didn't look right," he recalled.

"The front wall and one side wall that I was looking at were still there, they just were crooked. And then you know, that registered, and then it was well, the roof isn't there."

The barn had collapsed. It took a couple of seconds for the question to sink in: "Do I have any cows left?"

Sadlier and his family operate Yukon's only working dairy farm — Klondike Valley Creamery — and they had seven cows somewhere inside the wreckage.

The barn's windows and doors had blown out, and it was a mess of rubble inside. Sadlier immediately got busy.

"I kind of got in there, and I could hear one cow breathing," he said.

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It was hard at first to figure out where all the cows were. Some were buried in plywood and lumber, and he couldn't tell which ones. 

He found four of the seven squeezed in near one wall that was still standing. Those animals were mostly fine, and he was able to walk them out through a narrow space.  

"So I knew that I had a few," he recalled.

The other three were trapped under the debris. He went and got his sons to come help.

"We gathered up chainsaws and angle grinders and snow shovels, and just started extricating cows," he said.

It wasn't easy — Sadlier had to crawl in under the collapsed roof to find them, then push a stick up through the deep snow so they knew where to dig and cut.

"It took about an hour per cow."

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One of the trapped animals was his only milking cow right now. She was pinned on her side by debris and Sadlier thinks she'd pretty much thrown in the towel. She was the first they managed to free.

"You can only hold them down for so long, and then they just decide that it's over. So it took quite a bit of convincing her that she was indeed still alive," he said.

The last two were alive too — and soon enough also out of the rubble.

Snow on the roof

Later, Sadlier poked around and figured out what caused the collapse.

"It was definitely the snow load ... I'm not sure how many days it hasn't snowed," he said.

"We've figured there was very nearly 110 tonnes of snow on the roof ...  it was one connection joint where the truss joined the wall, that shifted — and it was just enough of a shift to start a domino effect and bring the whole thing down."

It's a setback for his farming operation. Sadlier said they just spent most of last summer building the barn because they needed the space. Now, they'll be cleaning it up and salvaging what they can. They've already had friends from town come out to help clean things up.

Klondike Valley Creamery/Facebook

They're not giving up the business. Sadlier's aiming to get a prefab barn shipped out from Ontario so he can get something new up quickly.

In the meantime, he's moved his dairy cows into his older barn for the winter. He says it'll be tight but they'll get by.

As for their brush with death, Sadlier says the animals have handled it well.

"I think most of them forgot that it happened already," he said.

George Maratos/CBC