As the week went on, the messages grew increasingly desperate.
One farmer asked for help with her cows, who had been standing in water for days. Others asked for livestock shelter, or help in transporting their cattle. And by Thursday, most of the Facebook messages were marked “urgent”: farmers frantically posting on social media, trying to get water and food to their animals.
Historic flooding in B.C.’s Fraser Valley this week has been catastrophic to the hundreds of farms in the region. Thousands of animals have died, and many more remain in dire circumstances - chickens, hens and dairy cattle abandoned in flooded barns, without critical access to veterinary care, food, or water.
“This is a really painful moment for farmers,” B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said Thursday. “Whether it’s to get them food or water, whether it’s to help [put] them out of their misery -- they need to get there, so we’re working as fast as we can to ensure those routes are there.”
The Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver, is where the bulk of B.C.’s food production takes place, and where most of the province’s chickens, eggs, and milk are produced. After hundreds of farmers found themselves under evacuation order, many tried to move their animals to higher ground, asking for help on social media to find trucks, trailers, or boats. Others defied the order, and tried to stay with their animals.
Still, hundreds of others were eventually forced to leave.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Rob Martens, an egg farmer in Chilliwack. His farm is dry, but he’s spent much of the week helping neighbours who were forced to evacuate and leave their animals behind.
“It’s something that is very hard for a human to go through,” he said. “To watch animals who are absolutely helpless.”
The flooding has also shut down critical roadways surrounding the region, meaning veterinarians aren’t able to access the area. Making matters worse is that the province’s animal health centre in Abbotsford, where the region’s veterinary labs are located, has also been flooded.
Ray Nickel, a chicken farmer in Chilliwack who has been helping with relief efforts, said that getting water and feed to the chickens has been the main priority. Some chickens have been left without water for a full day, he said. He and other volunteers have been working to bring portable water tanks to those farms.
“It’s still pretty dire,” Mr. Nickel said. “We’ve had a number of days where we’ve been stretching the birds’ limits.”
By Thursday afternoon, emergency officials were able to use helicopters to begin delivering water to the farms that most urgently needed it. And while animal feed had been a critical concern earlier this week, Ms. Popham said that officials are now confident in their access to it.
“Once we get through the emergencies, we’ll then shift to delivering food and water as needed,” Ms. Popham said.
On Facebook, many of the farmers’ pleas were met with dozens of offers to help.
On Wednesday afternoon, a stranger pulled up to Karl Loewen’s poultry farm near Abbotsford with seven Hereford cattle in the trailer. Mr. Loewen’s wife had posted on social media hours earlier about spare room in their old dairy barn.
“Farmers help each other out, especially during times like this,” Mr. Loewen said. His own grandfather endured a flood back in 1948 on the same property, and made it through because of the help of others.
Mr. Loewen doesn’t know the owners of the cattle. The person who dropped them off was helping another farmer too. “I’m not sure how long we’re gonna have the cattle for, but it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “We’ll just take care of them like they’re our own.”
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