A Winnipeg animal welfare charity has called on Manitoba’s provincial government to review the laws on how animals can be housed, after more than 800 cows horrifically died during a huge barn fire at a dairy farm, northeast of Steinbach. According to reports, there were approximately 1,000 animals being housed in the barns when they started to burn, with 800 cows being unable to escape the blaze. 

The Pennwood Dairy farm fire is believed to have broken out at around 5 a.m. on Monday morning, with all four barns housing cattle setting quickly alight. According to Fire Chief Kelvin Toews, the fire was "probably the largest barn fire" the Steinbach Fire Department has ever had to deal with, adding that, “this is quite a sizeable loss."

It took several fire crews from multiple departments a number of hours to control the flames, which caused “clouds of thick, black smoke” to cover the area. Although all of the humans at the dairy farm thankfully escaped without injury, the Winnipeg Humane Society believes that not enough was done to protect the hundreds of animals that lived inside the barns.

Speaking on CBC Radio a day after the massive fire at Pennwood Dairy, animal welfare consultant Brittany Semeniuk explained that such horrific incidents are all too common. In the last decade, Semeniuk explained, approximately 40,000 hogs have died in barn fires, while in the last few months around 27,000 chickens had been burned alive in similar circumstances.

Semeniuk, who is a consultant for the Winnipeg Humane Society, explained, “They [barn fires] do occur in a very high frequency and I mean I don't need to convince anyone that perishing within a fire where you're trapped in a building is a terrible way to go."

The regulations for farm building codes changed in 2017, when the general Manitoba building code replaced it. A move which Semeniuk describes as ‘problematic,’ as regulations for ‘low-occupancy’ buildings in the dairy industry are recommended, but not mandatory.

"A thousand pigs or a thousand chickens could still be qualified as low human occupancy, despite having a large number of animals, but because barns proved to be a lower safety hazard than human health, it was generally accepted to remove a lot of those previous precautions," Semeniuk told CBC News.

According to animal rights groups, stronger regulations wouldn’t just protect animals from fires, but would also give them a better quality of life. Basic welfare requirements for the animals would allow them to “perform their basic behavioural needs,” says Semeniuk, adding that current regulation does not require farmers to provide dairy cows with any outdoor access at all.

The fire at Pennwood Dairy remains under investigation by fire services. The exact number of animals killed at the property remains unknown, as an Officer of the Fire Commissioner of Manitoba said they do not keep track of livestock losses.

*Disclaimer: The cover image in this article was used for illustrative purposes only.

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