This season has been tough enough for our dairy farmers but for Strathallan’s Andrew and Belinda Burgoine, things just went up a level after fire raced across his property on Code Red Thursday, November 21.
The fire initially started on the north-west of the property, but a wind change brought it charging across the paddocks, destroying fences, shedding, 1800 rolls of hay and amongst other things, a rodeo ute and an old tractor.
But perhaps most distressing of all, was the sight of 25 dead Brown Swiss calves — some of the future genetics of the herd.
“I get attached to my babies so it’s pretty hard,” Andrew said with tears in his eyes.
“Our calf shed was severely affected — the compost on the floor was burning and the radiant heat was just terrible. The majority of our calves will be okay though and we are just keeping an eye on a couple who have some smoke inhalation,” Andrew said.
While Andrew said the day has now become a bit of blur, around 19 vehicles were called to the fire about 12.45 pm.
“There was that much smoke, and we could see the flames, so we had to get out pretty quick,” he said.
Thankfully the dairy and the house of Andrew’s parents Ian and Denise survived, although it was a close call.
“We were watching the fire and then it turned and came at us.
“My son and I grabbed a couple of machines and tractors and took off down the road when the fireys were coming our way. They wanted to know where it was, and I said ‘it’s coming straight at us.
“We couldn’t come back and grab any more stuff, there was too much smoke and we couldn’t see, so we just had to hope for the best.”
The dairy herd were safe on irrigated pasture although they missed their Thursday night milking.
“We did some emergency repairs including some plumbing and fencing and were able to get the cows milked, although they were a bit wary of the smoke blowing through,” he said.
The Burgoine family had just started to recover from the devastating impacts of the 2011 floods, which inundated their 809-hectare property which left Andrews’ parents homeless, their Brown Swiss herd marooned, and fodder destroyed.
With no flood insurance, the Burgoines paid for the financial impact for years.
“We survived the flood and then this happens, which is a lot worse,” Andrew said.
“This is going to cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“My parents are devastated.”
Andrew said while he is still asking himself what impact this disaster will have, the fact he is moving forward is a good sign.
“This is what I do, and I know it will be hard and there will be challenges ahead.”
Community spirit has been strong, and support has been overwhelming.
“The phones haven’t stopped,” Belinda said.
“We’ve had people dropping off hay and coming in with an excavator to help, so we can’t thank people enough.
“But while it’s great today, what are we going to do next week?”
The Burgoine family milk 430 split calving, Brown Swiss cows.