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Stowe dairy farmer reflects on losing more than 100 cows in fire

A black and white photo of an old wooden barn just off the asphalt of a roadway.
Skye Chalmers
Cabot Cooperative Creamery, Courtesy
Percy Farm in Stowe, seen in this photo from 2011, had a barn catch fire last week. Some 130 of their Jersey cows died.

Paul Percy was in Florida for a fishing trip when he heard the news. In the middle of the night, his barn in Stowe had caught fire. He says it burned to the ground, with more than 100 cows inside.

According to the Stowe Fire Department, the cause of the fire is undetermined.

Below is a transcript. If you're able, we recommend listening to this story.

By the time the fire department had got here the thing was fully in flame. There was – there was no way of doing anything. And my son come down and they got – they got six calves out of another barn that was sitting beside it.

The fire was so hot that it caught that barn on fire and in the end it burned everything. The only thing left standing is a grain bin.

There was 130 Jersey cows in there, dry or milking, and they're all gone. You know the smoke got them before they had a chance to do anything. Smoke and lack of oxygen.

A photo grid of four brown baby cows with yellow nametags: Joy, Harley,Tulip and Moon
Photos: Percy Farm, Courtesy
Graphic: Elodie Reed
These are four of the calves that Percy Farm was able to save in the fire.

There actually was a few in there that hadn't calved yet, that we'd brought up from one of the other barns, I think it was about a dozen that we all ready to calve in the next two weeks. But that isn't going to happen.

But they were a 100% Jerseys, and they was a nice herd of cows, they milked pretty good. Jersey cows are curious, ambitiously passionate in the summertime.

People come along here and stop and they'd come over to the fence and see what was going on. Oh, yeah, Jerseys have personalities.

Some of them are named but you know, I know a cow by the looks of her. You know, how they – how they look and how they act. They all knew me, they all knew my son better because he's more involved with it now than I am. But I like cows. Cows like me. I'm a dairy farmer.

More from VPR: For Max Howes, home is 235 acres of trees and fields, an old dirt road and a barn built in 1903

It was kind of hard to really realize what had happened. Of course this is a pretty big barn and it was right beside the road. You know, it was like 4 feet off the edge of the blacktop. So everybody – everybody knows this farm and it's kind of amazing, the people how they are concerned about it all, and you know, they don't want to lose all this farming going on in this town. I'm convinced of that.

I got insurance to cover the cows. I can go buy some more somewhere. But I ain't got no place to put them. So you know, until I – until I get something built back, you know I've lost income from hundred cows.

I don't know, we're waiting for the insurance adjuster. But we'll clean the place up here and in the spring figure out what we're going to do. We'll probably rebuild something somewhere.

Like I say, there ain't nothing you can do about it. It's what it is, you know. It's a bum deal, but that's what's happened.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine@annasvandine.

Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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