Critter Meadows

Merri Paquin, of Critter Meadows Family Farm, checks on her cows in Williamstown on Tuesday. After a barn fire in 2014, Paquin and her family have faced a number of challenges in an already volatile dairy industry, but as she put it, “we feel this is a life worth living.”

WILLIAMSTOWN — A GoFundMe appeal has been launched to help a Williamstown dairy farm save its herd from starvation this winter.

Critter Meadows Family Farm on Gilbert Road is in desperate need of $30,000 to buy hay for its 90 head of dairy cows to feed them through the winter.

The appeal comes after a series of major disasters for the Paquin family in recent years, leading up to a crisis as cold weather sets in.

In 2014, the cow barn burned, killing 59 of the 117-strong herd with another 30 cows dying two weeks after from respiratory illnesses associated with the fire.

Soon after the fire, Dan Paquin suffered a traumatic brain injury in a tractor accident that has also left him suffering from seizures.

Running the farm fell to his wife, Merri, and their daughter, Jasmin, 29. Merri Paquin has had to devote much of her time caring for her husband while also trying to run the farm and a home cleaning business.

A drought through much of this year has meant less haying for the cattle that has left the farm short of feed through the winter. Other recent medical problems for the family include their son, David Paquin, 36, who suffered a leg injury in a logging accident but is expected to recover, and Merri Paquin who is dealing with kidney stone problems.

It has been a long road to recovery for the family after the barn fire with finding other places to milk their cows, and rebuilding the barn and the size of the herd.

But the lack of feed has left the family farm struggling. The family is unable to sell or give away the herd because falling milk prices have meant there is a glut of dairy cows in the industry.

For the same reason, they’re unable to find anyone interested in slaughtering the herd because of a similar high inventory of cows in the market. Neither can the family simply abandon the herd because of state regulations.

Merri Paquin was in tears Tuesday describing the mounting toll the stress and anxiety on her and the family struggling to make ends.

A friend, Sandy Vitzhum, has come to the rescue helping to launch a GoFundMe appeal to raise funds for the family. It costs $350 per cow to feed them through the winter, so the appeal target is $30,000 for the family’s 90-head herd.

The community has rallied to the meet the family’s needs before — the barn was rebuilt with volunteer help, mostly from South Barre Christ Church.

Most taxing for Merri Paquin is her husband’s seizures which require her to be vigilant in providing constant care.

“It’s awful, he can’t work, he has like only 9 percent of his cognitive ability left,” she said. “I also work on the farm, and as a family, we take him out with us and care for him.”

Paquin said the farm has been an organic dairy farm since 1996; and since 2006, a member-supplier of Organic Valley, a Wisconsin-based, family-owned dairy farm cooperative, the largest in the nation.

But even Organic Valley was limited in the help it could provide. Paquin said the farm offered to subsidize some of the feed Critter Meadows Farm needed but said the money would have to be repaid within two months.

“I talked with them last week and they have a feed program but it’s not an emergency feed program,” Paquin said. “They let you buy hay according to your milk check.

“They offered to let me buy 15 round bales of hay at $80 a bale and then you have to pay trucking, so it’s almost $100 a bale. But I would have to repay it in two months, so it would actually make my situation worse,” she added.

The Department of Agriculture said Paquin also was responsible for the welfare of the herd and cannot abandon it, despite her financial difficulties.

“The state told me that they have a drought-assistance program for feed in the state of Vermont but in order to utilize it you have to have been in drought for nine months in a row,” Paquin said. “I’ve done so much research and been on the phone constantly with so many people.

“I knew we were going into a problem, and it’s not something happened overnight, and I’ve been trying to figure out a solution for over two and a half months,” she added.

To contact Paquin with offers of help, call 917-2326. To continue to the GoFundMe appeal, visit www.gofundme.com/help-save-critter-meadows-farm.

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