Hello! My name is Heidi, and I'm here to share with you the details of the silo fire that started on December 6th here at Lilac Hedge Farm in Rutland, Massachusetts. Below is an excerpt from a newsletter that Ryan sent to customers to share the circumstances with them directly.
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"...Early in the afternoon, our farm chores crew noticed smoke coming from our upright silo that stores winter hay for the animals, and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.
Growing, harvesting, and storing feed in our silo is an all-summer-long project. We maintain hundreds of acres consisting of both our own fields as well as rented fields in 5 different towns. This year was an incredible accomplishment as it was our first year filling the entire silo, and would have been the first year that we did not have to buy in additional feed.
Thousands of labor hours were spent mowing, raking, tedding, chopping, trucking, running the blower and table to push food into the silo, and preparing equipment and maintaining the silo. It is so sad to see all that hard work and investment go up in flames.
The fire resulted from spontaneous ignition within the stored silage. The leading cause of this type fire is low moisture silage which can be attributed to the dry conditions this summer. The combustion happened in the middle of the silo around 35 feet up and so far has worked its way to the top. We have been told from others who have had this unfortunate experience that once the fire makes its way to the top it will continue to work its way down. The only way to stop it is to fully unload the silo.
The flames reached a temperature of 500 yesterday, much higher than the 120 degrees of the first day of the fire. The silo is lined with concrete so we expect the silo itself to sustain minimal damage. Additional structural damage includes the electric cable running to the unloader at the top that has melted. We’re not sure yet if the unloader that was purchased two years ago itself is still intact, but will know that soon.
It is now a race against the clock to accelerate a future plan to construct a bunk silo. It is needed to store the unusable feed coming out of the silo as part of the unloading process to extinguish the fire, as well to house the new purchased feed we will need to get through the winter. Yesterday, just 24 hours after this all started, we signed the paperwork to begin site work and construction for this new bunk silo.
There is a lot to consider when designing a bunk silo. Fortunately, we already had preliminary plans. Managing forage, our animals' nutrition, includes a lot of factors including moisture and air access; it’s a balancing act to keep food perfectly preserved through the months where pasturing is not an option. First the area will be prepped and scraped to allow for proper base material to be brought in. We estimate it will take roughly 100 dump trucks of specific gravel and stone to shore up the base area for the 30x80 concrete pad to be poured. Without a precise base we would risk cracking, possible shifting, and air access for feed spoilage. The bunker will be built at the exact correct pitch to maintain correct moisture levels while managing run-off water and protecting our feed while making sure the walls and floor stay together. This project also includes trucking additional pre-cast silo bunker sidewalls up from Pennsylvania and installing additional drainage around the site. Total estimated cost for the new bunk silo is $90,000.
The loss of the silo and emergency construction is not what hits us hardest. It’s our winter feed loss; the hay we rely on to nourish our livestock. It costs $3.5 per day for feed per head of cattle we have in the barn. Continuing our plan of wintering 150 cows here is an expense of roughly $525 per day. We estimate $90,000 in feed expense to replace the lost feed assuming all goes well and we are able to put the cows on pasture in mid-May . This will be in addition to the $50k outstanding balance associated with chopping the grass this summer, all of which is now lost. A fire is a farmer’s worst nightmare.
The good news is we are moving fast. We are utilizing a drawdown on our line of credit and will start construction of the silo next Monday. Concrete is planned for Wednesday. Weather is not in our favor to pour concrete this time of year, but we’re hoping for the best. Our farmer friends are checking their feed inventories to hopefully help us secure what we will need to get through the cold New England winter months. Saturday we will have a caravan of trucks and trailers starting to bring home our remaining 150 round bales from our Templeton fields to get us through the next couple weeks.
Thank you for your time and interest in reading all of the details associated with the current situation at Lilac Hedge Farm. My team knows it is important to share our farm journey and story with those that support us day in and day out. I have incredible staff and friends with knowledge, connections, and resources to help us move ahead. My team and I have persevered through many challenges in the past and I have no doubt we’ll get through this one too. We are resilient.