More than 800 farm animals have been temporarily relocated in Quebec's Abitibi-Témiscamingue region to protect them from devastating forest fires.

Livestock at six large farms and several farmhouses in the region have been evacuated so far, confirmed Pascal Rheault, president of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, on Thursday afternoon.

"We're down to around 800 head of cattle, as well as chickens, a few pigs, quail, sheep and ewes," he said. "All those who asked us to evacuate their herds, we managed to find places for them."

Mathieu Dumont, an employee with the animal transport company JF Breton, helped coordinate the relocation operation. He says the nights have been short, and sleep has been scarce over the past few days.

"We started evacuating the smaller herds on Sunday evening," he said in a telephone interview.

"On Monday, we evacuated producers in Saint-Lambert, and on Tuesday, we started with another producer. We finished at night and started again very early the next morning. We finished last night around 10 p.m."

The producers were prepared for the evacuations but still had to be careful with the animals, he adds.

"The animals were a little more agitated because their owners were, too. The fact that there were planes and helicopters in the sky, smoke, all that made them a little more nervous, but they still cooperated well," says Dumont.

Although many volunteers put their hands up to help the evacuation teams, moving these herds required experience, he adds.


Places to house animals are becoming scarce, says Rheault. "If there are other large farms that have to be evacuated, it's likely to be more complicated,'" he warns.

"I hope the responders will be able to contain the fire today so we don't have to do any more evacuations," Dumont hopes.

For the moment, no dairy farms are threatened, according to Rheault.

"If it came to that, it would be another kind of gymnastics," he explains, referring to milking, which requires a certain amount of organization and equipment. "We're keeping our fingers crossed that the fires are contained before then."

Given the circumstances, the farm producer hopes Quebec will be flexible enough to allow his peers to take care of animals they don't want to relocate if their farm is safe from the flames.

"In Western Canada, owners can leave their animals there and come back to the site for an hour or two each day to take care of them," he says. "In Quebec, we can't do that."

For the time being, the animals' food needs are being met, says Rheault. A number of producers have responded to the appeal launched by the regional UPA to provide hay and feed to disaster victims.

The farmers' union is also in close contact with the office of Quebec's Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, André Lamontagne. Discussions are underway to find solutions for monetary compensation for losses and expenses incurred by disaster victims.

"Above all, we want something that will be easy to apply," said Rheault.


This report was written with the financial assistance of the Meta Exchange and The Canadian Press for news. It was first published in French on June 8, 2023.