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Farms slowly recovering from historic April snow storm
April 25, 2018

After several long days of hard work cleaning up after the historic snow storm April 13-16, operations at area dairy farms are slowly getting back to normal.

Area dairymen, though, will be dealing with the aftermath of barn collapses for months.

“There’s long-term consequences to all this,” said John Jacobs, owner of Green Valley Dairy, Krakow, located in Shawano County about 8 miles south of Gillett. “It will take almost a year for some of this stuff to recover.”

The Oconto County Reporter last week spoke with Jacobs and the owners of three other farms in western Oconto County about the damage sustained from freezing rain followed by 24 to 32 inches of heavy snow.

At Gohr Farms on County C, Sobieski, about half of the 100-by-200-foot freestall barn collapsed between 6 and 6:30 a.m. April 15.

Dennis Gohr, who runs the farm with his brother, Leon, said about half of their 155-cow herd was being milked in the separate parlor at the time. No one heard a thing.

“We lost about six right way, and we’ve shipped (out) another three,” Gohr said.

“We’ve probably dropped 1,000 (gallons) a day,” he added. “It’s not much when you consider the big farms, but for us it’s a significant amount.”

Clearing the damage so the cows could be returned to the remaining section of barn took all day because of the wind and snow.

“It was miserable,” he said. “And now we got the feed alley open, so we’re good to go that way. The barn just has a lot less roof on it now.”

The Gohrs received help later in the week from Rod Sievert, who co-owns the nearby Sievert Dairy Farms, and his son, who stopped by to assist.

Rod and his brother, Mike, dealt with two barn roof collapses on April 15, narrowly escaping serious injury the second time — not by the roof falling on them, but with them.

Mike discovered the first one about 5 a.m. after finding a section of roof about 24 to 30 feet long and 50 feet wide had crashed in. No cows were hurt, because the section landed in the center lane or on top of the stalls.

That afternoon, the brothers could see trusses cracking and heard posts popping on a wing off the main barn.

Using a hydraulic lift, they hauled a snowblower up in attempt to relieve the strain.

“We were blowing snow up there for several hours and going back and forth on this one part of the roof, and the wind is so strong, it just finally got to the point that this is kind of pointless, and said we might as well just get the snowblower and get down and whatever happens happens,” Mike explained.

“We turned around and we’re walking across the barn, pulling the snowblower back, and another 25 to 30 feet of barn collapsed, just where we were 20 seconds earlier.”

The possibility of the collapse, which occurred about 5 p.m., was at the back of his mind, Mike added.

“But you were doing what you had to do,” he said. “I didn’t think it would go down, but it did.”

The collapse is in the section where the main barn and the wing meet, but “the whole 110-foot section is compromised.”

About 140 head out of their 250-cow herd were being moved at the time, but Sievert thinks the cows heard the roof structures cracking and backed away. Some spooked cows ran afterward and were cut by fallen sheet metal.

The next few days of cleanup were hectic, but employees and a few volunteers pitched in.

“Teamwork kept it going,” he said.

Recovery
But the storm will hit the bottom line.

“There’s lost production – it really messed up the cows – and all the labor we stuck into cleanup. That’s all lost … you don’t get reimbursed for any of that,” Sievert said.

They’re hoping insurance will cover at least 60 percent of the costs.

“I’m thinking were still going to have to shell out about $50,000 out-of-pocket or more,” Sievert said.

The losses are also piling up at O’Harrow’s Family Farm northwest of Oconto Falls, at least half of the 1,000 cow barn was damaged when the roof caved in Sunday morning.

“There was no loss of human life, and we’re very thankful,’ said co-owner Tim O’Harrow. “As sad as it is for losing cows, as financially as bad as it is, those things can be replaced. Fixing the barn will take the summer. There’s decisions to make and dealing with insurance, for which you don’t receive full (reimbursement).”

O’Harrow declined to say how many cows were killed, saying other farms suffered more serious losses.

“We lost some. We will be losing more. This will be an ongoing factor for six months to a year,” he said. “It has to do with stress on cows … there are some cows – we don’t have numbers – that have aborted, there’s some cows that will have more mastitis because of the stress, there are cows (that are) way down on (producing) milk and may never come back because of the stress (over) what happened. All of these factors will weigh into a higher cull rate than normal.”

As things return to normal at O’Harrow’s, which milks 1,600 cows, Tim and son Joel, the managing partner, are wondering what’s next.

“This storm hasn’t garnered as much news as maybe as I would have expected – not that I’m looking for sorrow or sympathy for ourselves, but there’s been many people affected by this,” he said.

“It’s surprising … if it had been a tornado, for instance – and this is similar to what tornadoes do in terms of devastating individuals – that gets state and national news. This apparently did not, from my perspective.”

A number of agriculture officials visited Green Valley Dairy last week to get a better handle on the damage.

“I think what is trying to be conveyed to state officials, FSA and DATCP, is that there are many of us that are not looking for a handout, what we’re looking for is a hand up,” O’Harrow said. “That’s important for a lot of different-sized operations.”

Jacobs, of Green Valley Dairy, said government agencies

“to their credit, (are) trying to figure this out.”

He emphasized that the damage is widespread through several counties.

“It’s like a hundred different tornadoes touched down all over the place,” he said.

At Jacobs’ farm, which milks 3,200 head, the damages are “considerable,” he said.

The south sides of their barn roofs were compromised when the snow piled up several feet high.

“It sagged the roofs, and some of them cracked and fell in, and those that didn’t fall in there’s a lot of broken purlins,” Jacobs explained.

No people or cattle were injured there. Cattle were doubled up in the north pens, and a neighbor is housing some cows for them.

“If you go by the barns, some are patched already, and … it doesn’t look that bad,” he said. “But the integrity of roof is shot.”

Jacobs sought help from the Morgan/Green Valley Fire Department, which came out after the storm to spray snow off the roof so there weren’t further collapses.

Many other people put in a monumental effort to get operations running again, he added.

“We had people that didn’t sleep for days,” Jacobs said. “Our staff and vendors, (and some) volunteers, there sure were a lot of good people out there that come through when crunch is on.”

Jacobs also noted that this storm came at a bad time, with commodities prices down and farms under financial stress.

“We’re just down in the trough right now, just way down, and … the cash flows are stressed, and equity is stressed for a lot of folks,” he said. “It’s not a good situation, but farmers are resilient. It takes a lot to keep us down.”

 

Source: Green Bay Press Gazette



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