U aids sheep hurt in rural farm fire

Police are calling the fire that killed and maimed hundreds of sheep arson.

Fourth-year veterinary student Kathy Maudal entered a burned sheep barn and saw hundreds of animals – both dead and alive – whose fur coats smoldered and eyes melted shut in the wake of a devastating fire.

“We had to go through the barn and decide who could be saved and who couldn’t,” she said.

Police are calling the blaze that tore through Steve Read and Jodi Read’s award-winning farm Monday arson. The small, Nerstand, Minn., Shepherd’s Way Farms is the largest North American farm that produces cheese from sheep’s milk.

The fire killed and maimed hundreds of their sheep, but the owners said more animals might have died without the efforts of University veterinarians and students who responded to the emergency.

Looking for immediate help, Steve Read said, he called the University Veterinary Medical Center’s Large Animal Hospital on Monday after the fire. The hospital has an ambulatory service and helps in emergency situations such as this one.

Soon after, a veterinary team of three doctors and seven students headed to the rural Minnesota town to treat the injured animals.

“We would have been completely lost had they not been out here,” Steve Read said.

“I can assuredly say, through their efforts, many more animals were quickly treated and saved.”

Many of the animals’ injuries were severe and could not be saved, team members said. But they moved through the herd and marked the animals with different paints to identify injuries.

Dr. Jennifer Johnson led the medical team at the farm and estimated approximately 300 animals were saved.

“I think the timely intervention was what saved them,” she said. “If we weren’t there, they wouldn’t have had enough people on the farm to treat the animals fast enough.”

Team members and farm help treated the animals for smoke inhalation, burns, scalds, facial infections and swelling, said Keri Maros, a part-time employee at the farm.

The University veterinary team also set up a makeshift triage in the milking parlor to treat the animals.

Maros said University professionals and students also taught farm employees how to handle the situation.

“University people took over right away. They knew exactly what to do,” she said.

Maudal said the team used anti-inflammatory drugs to help with lung damage caused by smoke inhalation. Team members also spread ointment on animals’ eyes to heal the burns, she said.

Johnson said approximately 45 sheep were so severely injured that workers had to kill them the first day after the fire.

“It was very difficult for me, professionally, to make such a large-scale decision about which animals we had to kill,” she said. “I was never trained for that, I was trained to save them. It was very emotional.”

Neither Johnson nor the students have experienced a large-scale loss of life, she said.

“The thing that struck me the most was the amount of damage and loss of life,” Johnson said. “It was very tragic.”

All fourth-year veterinary students do fieldwork on two-week rotations. The students who were called to help were the ones on the small ruminant health and production rotation – in which they learn about sheep and goats. The students go through 26 rotations throughout their senior year, said Shayna Gotvaslee, a fourth-year veterinary student.

Without the help of the doctors and students, Johnson said, the animals wouldn’t have received the rapid treatment.

Johnson said the veterinary team might go back to the farm. But for now, one veterinarian, who graduated from the University, will continue treating the animals.