WILLIAMSTOWN — What to do about the massive pile of ash and debris now located behind her Gilbert Road farmhouse isn’t even on the first page of Merri Paquin’s growing to-do list.
Paquin and her family have more pressing concerns in the aftermath of a fire that leveled their uninsured barn and killed nearly two dozen cows, several sheep and a horse at Critter Meadows Farm early Monday.
Not all of their animals perished. Two cows were pulled from the burning barn by Paquin’s husband before the 3:30 a.m. fire really got rolling, and 51 others were eventually rescued by firefighters.
According to Paquin, three of the cows didn’t make it through the first night, two others had to be put down Tuesday, and a sixth met the same fate Wednesday morning.
“We’re afraid we’re going to lose them all,” a still-distraught Paquin said Wednesday.
According to her, all of the surviving cows are weeks — in some cases days — away from birthing calves while struggling to recover from the fire that was fought around them.
Paquin said none of the cows is out of the woods. All are at risk of developing respiratory problems due to severe smoke inhalation. And, she said, some have developed pneumonia after being showered with water and standing in subzero temperatures Monday morning.
“The vet basically said we need to take it day to day,” said Paquin, who spent Wednesday hoping — and planning — for the best.
For the moment that means punting the problem for which there is no immediate solution: how to rebuild a barn that was insured until earlier this winter, when Paquin said her cash-strapped family let the policy lapse in order to buy fuel to heat their home.
Paquin said she resents having been forced to make the decision, but rather than dwell on a problem she can’t solve she is scrambling to deal with the ones that she can.
The first order of business is finding a somewhat more permanent — preferably organic — home for cows that are struggling to adjust to the open milking parlor at the Graham Farm on Graham Road. Paquin’s cows are used to being tied in individual stalls, and, in their weakened state are having a tough time on the concrete floor of the Grahams’ open milking parlor.
“We’d like to move them as quickly as we can,” said Paquin, who was chasing down a couple of leads Wednesday — one in Barre Town and another in Williamstown.
What makes that somewhat more complicated is the Paquins’ hope to remain organic milk producers. That, she said, requires meeting strict federal guidelines that she is busily researching before making any decisions about where to move her cows.
“We desperately would like to keep them organic, but our main goal is just to keep them alive at this point,” she said.
Farmers for more than four decades — the last several of them in Williamstown — Paquin and her husband, Dan, have been humbled by the outpouring of support they have received as news of Monday’s devastating fire spread.
In Williamstown, residents are planning an April 19 fundraiser for the family at the Moose Club, and several of Paquin’s housecleaning clients have established a relief fund at Community National Bank.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Merri Paquin, who said a receptionist from the People’s Health & Wellness Clinic in Barre dropped off a $1,000 check Tuesday.
Those interested in making donations can mail checks payable to the Critter Meadows Farm Recovery Fund to Community National Bank, 316 N. Main St., Barre, VT 05641.
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