Both McAlpine Farms and Coalville Dairy, near Ottawa, were hit hard by last month’s torrential rain. With water already rising, the farms promptly closed for a few days, an idyllic weekend to socialize and escape the town of Leighton. But then — bad timing. With locals returning to their homes, the farms found themselves completely surrounded by water that in some cases ran almost a mile deep.
“I wasn’t aware of how high the waters were until I got a call from Coalville Dairy telling me they were flooded,” recalls McAlpine’s Kevin Watton. “That was the morning after the farmer had put his cows into the corrals and they were all knocked down to the ground.”
Adding insult to injury, the cows have fallen ill after being abandoned for more than a week by their owners. “The ones that we had on food supplements were not responding well,” says Watton. The losses could well end up topping $20,000.
Sightings of cows trudging their way across flooded fields, some foaming at the mouth and struggling with cracked teeth, are being shared with other farmers in eastern Ontario, including Watton’s.
“We’ve been having e-mails from those who have been hit by the floods,” says Watton. “They’re passing the information along to others so they can see what we’re going through.”
Which brings us back to watching the cows.
Fishing thoughtfully out of the way of more flooded cattle, Watton found many had been left to fend for themselves by their barn owners.
“There are people who have checked the water levels, not even checked the flooring,” he said. “We had to throw up all that dead livestock.”
Fortunately, they are not alone in their struggles. Over in Ottawa, neighbouring Stittsville saw nearly 30 homes and barns inundated by flood waters and are still being worked on by local firefighters. Meanwhile, St. Catharines, Ontario was being dealt a rare provincial natural disaster, as widespread flooding caused the cancellation of schools, a mass evacuation of residents and loss of 2,400 livestock.
“Water sits up a few feet above the floor and it can just go right over a house in seconds,” explains Watton. “Then, once the silt settles, its’ just like reversing the slide. It has to build up again.”
As for the cows, Watton is worried that not enough of them were kept in corrals or boarded on hay or straw. “If we had kept them higher, maybe a few feet higher, they’d have been fine,” he explained. “Even if they were drenched, some of them could have made it because they like a muddy diet.”
But as much as they have been helpful, the cows’ bones show they’ve also taken a beating. “We have a couple on balance wheels. Some of them have broken wheels.”
And they’re still in need of some human support as water continues to rise around the area. “The water is down in one square mile,” says Watton. “Then another four in the other four.”