TROY, Maine — For dairy farmers David and Debra Quimby of Shady Lane Farm in Troy, 2020 has brought one hardship after another.
But the worst disaster yet happened during this weekend’s storm, when high winds and wet, heavy snow caused the roof of their cow barn to collapse, trapping their 80-head dairy herd inside the mangled metal and wood structure.
“The wind just went in there and lifted it right off the foundation,” David Quimby said Monday. “I never heard a thing, the wind was blowing so hard here at the house. My son come running in here in the morning, just screaming. All the cows were in there — and it was pretty near flat to the ground.”
All but six of the cattle survived the collapse. They moved most of the herd about 6 miles away, to another dairy farming operation.
David Quimby, 68, said he feels he is fighting a headwind as he tries to keep doing what he loves — being a Maine dairy farmer. He’s been at it his whole life, and tough times in the industry are neither a new phenomenon for him or specific to Maine.
The industry has been on the brink of crisis for years — about 5,000 dairy farms have closed in the United States since 2015.
The coronavirus pandemic has complicated dairy farming, but before it hit, the industry in Maine and elsewhere had a more hopeful outlook for 2020 thanks in part to a strong domestic economy and robust international demand. Average milk prices were projected to rise to levels not seen in five years.
But after March, when colleges, restaurants and other institutions shut down, the demand for milk dropped precipitously. Prices collapsed again, and some farmers and dairy cooperatives had to “dump out.”
For David Quimby, who once dreamed of retiring at age 70 to hike the Appalachian Trail, hard times and bad luck have combined to make this year worse than imaginable.
“Maine people were born tough,” he said. “They can take a lot. But they do break.”
The Quimbys sell milk to Dairy Farmers of America, a national marketing cooperative headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas. Back in March, the farm was given a production quota, and if the cows produced more than the quota allowed, “they’d charge you for it,” David Quimby said. When he learned that excess milk was dumped out at the plant, it didn’t sit right. Neither did another decision by the cooperative to pay farmers for only 85 percent of the milk it picked up.
“They wonder why we’re going out of business,” David Quimby said. “But I’m 68 years old. I can’t change my profession.”
The farmer said he still has debt and is “in it” until it’s paid off.
The drought this summer forced him to start giving feed in July to cows that normally graze in pastures. Then, in August, the family’s only loader tractor caught fire.
“It was a hard summer,” David Quimby said.
The family said the barn that collapsed this weekend was insured, but they don’t know how much they will get to rebuild it or when the funds will be made available. Building materials have been scarce and expensive which might limit what they can do.
Even so, the cows need to be housed.
“It’s just a part of life, I guess,” he said. “Some people are more fortunate than others, but I don’t care about that. I’m a simple man with simple needs. But this, I need.”
Still, he is grateful — that he didn’t lose more cows, that people weren’t injured as they freed the trapped and traumatized animals, and for his neighbors in Troy, who are helping the family.
“When I went to bed last night, I thanked God it wasn’t any worse. And it could have been,” he said.
Jennifer Wixson, who has a farm a few miles away in Troy, launched an online fundraiser to help the family. Within less than a day, nearly half of its $10,000 goal had been raised.
“I just was so moved by their hardship and knew that people in the community would want to help,” she said. “We’re very giving. Very tight-knit, especially during the pandemic.”
It’s also a farming community that appreciates the area’s remaining dairy farmers, including the Quimbys, she said.
“Dairy farms still play an important role in our lives. They keep the fields open, and give it character,” she said. “I hope this will be the start of something good for the Quimby family. Maybe we can get them a new barn, and get them a lift up into the new year. And give them some hope for a better future. And the community is like the wings lifting them up. That’s how we see it.”
David and Debra Quimby said that the generosity of their neighbors has meant the world to them.
“It’s amazing how many people showed up yesterday to help,” Debra Quimby said.
“It’s awesome,” her husband added. “You’ve got to thank God for good people.”