Saturday, December 23, 2006

Friends rally to help Alberta farmer after freak accident

Lief Erickson, a third-generation Northern Alberta cattle farmer, has survived it all: low grain prices, droughts and most recently the financial drain spurred by the mad-cow crisis. But what happened to him two weeks ago has rallied people in farming communities from across North America with offers of cows, cash, hey bales and even free labor.

More than half of Mr. Erickson's cattle herd plunged to their deaths in a freak drowning accident on his sprawling farm north of Viking, a small community of 1100 about 110 kilometers southeast of Edmonton.

The animals, 170 black Angus cows and calves worth more than $100000, which were uninsured, died after walking onto the ice of a 60-meter-long dugout that was covered by snow from a recent storm.

His neighbors quickly pulled together to help Mr. Erickson with the grim task of burying the 170 carcasses, which were frozen into the watering hole. People offered the use of their backhoes, while others donated their labor.

A local auction mart has organized a cattle sale and silent auction last Friday. Proceeds will go to Mr. Erickson and his family. Terry Cartier, a local auctioneer, helped to organized the fundraiser at the Viking Auction Mart. "Our phones haven't stopped ringing. We've got calls from Illinois to the Northwest Territories. There's lots of support from Saskatchewan and just all over the country. Every body wants to help", he said. "People in the cattle industry understand how tough it is to be in this business right now trying to make a living." Mr. Cartier said that donations for the silent auction have ranged from tickets from a rodeo to generators to cows to thousands of dollars worth of tubing needed to build corrals. "We have no idea how much we are going to raise. Stuff just keeps coming in," he said.

According to Mr. Cartier, the Ericksons are well known in the community, and Mr. Erichson is the "kind of person who would take off this shirt for anybody else." He said while farmers routinely lose a few animals from time to time in drownings, he doesn't recall ever seeing an accident on this scale.