Safety Corner

March: Snow Removal from Barn Roofs

In Pennsylvania, a late snowfall in February or March is not uncommon. These snowfalls are often heavy and increase the danger of roof collapse during this time.

“The heavy snow sticks to roofs and, if left there, can lead to barn collapses,” said Russell Redding, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture secretary. “While building roofs may look okay following a snowfall, we recommend that farmers watch their buildings carefully and consider ways to safely and quickly remove snow before problems arise.”

Buildings with gently-pitched roofs face the greatest danger of collapse. Workers shoveling snow off roofs should exercise caution and use ladders and safety ropes. Snow rakes and specialty tools may make it possible to dislodge snow from roofs while standing on the ground, but avoid excessive scraping or chipping that could damage the roof itself, cautioned Redding. Those with open-trussed buildings with uninsulated roofs might consider heating the building to melt the snow and allow it slide off.

Duane and Marilyn Hershey who own and operate Ar-Joy Farm in Chester County experienced a roof collapse in February 2014. “We had eight to 10 inches [of snow] plus sleet and freezing rain, plus another eight to 10 inches, followed by wind,” said Marilyn. “It was 2 o’clock in the morning and suddenly our employee was in the house yelling. I knew something awful had happened.” The weather during that week created extraordinary circumstances that led to roof collapse on the Hershey’s free stall barn that housed about 650 cows.

Initially, the larger middle truss had fallen against the stalls in the middle alley and where the cows stand to eat. “Thankfully, very few cows were injured because they were in the stalls,” Marilyn explained. “They were alive but they couldn’t move because they were blocked in.” A second portion of the barn collapsed shortly thereafter with only 1/3rd of the roof remaining up.

Duane and Marilyn offer the following advice for if your farm experiences extreme weather that leads to a roof collapse:

  • Start making phone calls to neighboring farmers, family, building company and others. “It’s hard to do that but people want to help,” said Marilyn.
  • Call your builder to assess the structural damage and begin repairs.
  • Call your township to ask if they’ll keep your road plowed and accessible for volunteers.
  • Call your veterinarian to assist. Cows will likely be injured and some may need to be euthanized.
  • Take photos of your cows and be sure to capture their ear tag numbers in the photos. You’ll need the record later for insurance reports and your own records.

“Our lender gave us the best advice,” Marilyn said. “He said, ‘People are going to want to help. Give them a job.’ and so we did. We had 100 people here helping the following day.” Some ways volunteers can help are: housing cows on their farm until your barn is rebuilt, bringing saws and welding equipment to free trapped cows, bringing gates to help move and corral cows, cooking food or renting dumpsters to clean up debris.

“It was traumatic and certainly not something I want to go through again,” Marilyn stated. “But we were blessed. We had so much support.”