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2 cows die after Framingham barn roof caves in

Amid warnings around the region that mounting snow is increasing the threat of roof collapses, a barn roof caved in at a Framingham dairy farm Wednesday morning, killing two cows and injuring four others.

Rescue workers labored to lift the injured animals at Eastleigh Farm, widely known for its raw milk and artisanal cheese, and move them into a nearby Quonset hut to be cared for.

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“In the Quonset hut, we have plenty of dry bedding, and we’ll get them out of the elements,” said Katherine MacKenzie, Framingham’s animal control director. “They won’t be in the wind and the direct snow, so it’s a better place to provide the nursing care for them.”

The recent snow buildup, combined with water weight, is causing damage, leaks, and the threat of roof collapses, said a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

“The roofs are getting heavy,” said spokesman Travis Hengen. “At first, when the snow comes down, it is light and fluffy. But now you add rainwater, and it gets heavier.”

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

A farm worker comforted one of the four cows injuried in a roof collapse Wednesday in Framingham.

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In Worcester, firefighters rushed to a vacant home Wednesday afternoon after neighbors reported a loud creaking noise coming from the old structure weighed down by snow on the roof, officials said.

“It was a pretty strange sight,” said Deputy Chief Geoffrey Gardell, adding that the home was going to be demolished. “There were big cracks in the roof, and the walls were flaring out on all sides.”

Firefighters arriving at Eastleigh Farm found the corrugated metal roof of the approximately 40-by-60-foot barn had collapsed, apparently under the weight of recent snows, Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Burns said. They made sure that all farm personnel were accounted for and not injured and then began to tend to the cows, Burns said.

The injured cows were moved by gliders provided by the Animal Rescue League of Boston to another barn on the premises to recover, said league spokeswoman Elizabeth Dobrska.

“The best thing was for them to stay there,” Dobrska said of the injured cattle. “I believe there were several veterinarians there giving them fluids, so hopefully they’ll be making a good recovery.”

An employee at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, which is part of Tufts University, said that an associated veterinarian from Connecticut who specializes in bovine medicine would be making house calls to tend to the injured cows.

Burns said that the cows had suffered “impact injuries” but that “sometimes with these animals, it’s the emotional stress as much as anything.” Another four cows were able to walk away from the collapse, he said.

About 50 cows are at the farm, said MacKenzie, who added that the barn’s metal roof was found caved in by farm workers about 6:30 a.m. She said other structures appeared to be all right, and the damaged portion of the barn was razed Wednesday afternoon.

Eastleigh Farm has seen hard times in the past five years as the recession created problems for farmers nationwide and caused milk prices to drop. Last fall, Framingham’s Town Meeting delayed action on a proposed bylaw that owner Doug Stephan hoped would let him develop part of the property while preserving the rest for agriculture and open space.

Stephan, who said he planned to discuss the farm’s future with town officials Wednesday night, said he was grateful for the public safety crews, farm volunteers, and veterinarians who flocked to Eastleigh to take care of his cows.

“It was just a really great outpouring of support,” he said, noting that hundreds of local residents have already reached out to help. “The unfortunate circumstances that presented it are sad, but I am very happy that these various folks, both public and private, showed interest and support.”

The farm’s store will be open Thursday as usual, he said, but the accident will affect his stock of fresh, raw milk.

“We have fewer cows, so there’s going to be a problem on supply of milk for a little while,” he said. “This winter has already been tough on the cows. All we’re doing now is hoping for early spring.”

Globe correspondents Catalina Gaitan and Jacqueline Tempera contributed. Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.
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