Roof collapses plague farms
As farmers recover, citizens inspired to help
By Scott Bellile
The record-breaking blizzard that unleashed 2 feet of snow April 14-15 hit one demographic particularly hard: farmers.
Many farmers learned their barns were not built to handle the overabundance of snow Mother Nature dropped upon them. In the days that followed, barn roofs collapsed at some farms while at others, firefighters spent hours spraying away snow piles to prevent structure cave-ins.
“I don’t think we’ve ever dealt with this before, not in my almost 40 years on the fire department,” New London Fire Capt. Don Conat said. “We’ve never dealt with barn roofs collapsing and animals trapped.”
Locally this was the largest April snowstorm on record and the second largest behind one in March 1888, according to the Green Bay National Weather Service.
“Most of the companies have been saying the buildings are made for 50-year snowfalls, but this is I guess a hundred-year snowfall,” said Clintonville Assistant Fire Chief Todd Prellwitz.
Busy week for barn roof calls
The following is a list of farms along with several local industries where area fire departments responded for roof concerns last week. This list does not include farmers who experienced collapses but declined to call their local fire departments.
The list was compiled through discussions with the fire departments of Clintonville, Bear Creek, New London and Ellington. Fire departments in Manawa and Embarrass were unable to be reached.
Sunday, April 15
• Auer Farm, N5271 Madden Road, Lebanon: Two separate roof collapses; at least four cows killed.
• Steel King, 325 E. Beckert Road, New London: Roof collapse.
Monday, April 16
• Schutt Industries, 185 Industrial Ave., Clintonville: Sagging roof; no collapse.
Tuesday, April 17
• Bleck’s Dairy Farm, N5436 County Highway T, Lebanon: Clearing snow from roof; no collapse.
• Madden Dairy Farms, E8920 Crain Road, Lebanon: Roof bowing and boards breaking.
• Glendale Farms, N9895 Kluth Road, Matteson: Roof collapse.
• Voight Acres, N4405 Rexford Road, Ellington: Rafters bowing; no collapse.
Wednesday, April 18
• Clintonville Elevator, 215 Autumn St., Clintonville: Grain bin roofs caving in.
• Madden Dairy Farms, E8920 Crain Road, Lebanon: Clearing snow from roof.
• Sugar Creek Farms, N6848 County Highway D, Deer Creek: Small portions of roof collapse; clearing snow from roof.
• Auer Farm, N5271 Madden Road, Lebanon: Clearing snow from roof.
• Triple D Dairy, N12098 County Highway D, Larrabee: Sagging roof; roof collapse day prior.
Thursday, April 19
• Clinton Farm, E8351 State Highway 22, Bear Creek: Clearing snow from roof; no collapse.
• Rohan Farm, N7832 Village Road, Bear Creek: Clearing snow from roof; no collapse.
Dale Fire Chief Jim Emmons and Hortonville-Hortonia Assistant Fire Chief Jack Kuhnke said their respective fire departments were not paged to farms within their communities. However, Hortonville-Hortonia Fire District offered mutual aid at the near-roof collapse on Rexford Road in Ellington.
Farmers thank firefighters
Two farmers whom the New London Press Star and Clintonville Tribune-Gazette interviewed, Dan Madden Jr. and Dave Viergutz, said they appreciated firefighters clearing snow off their barn roofs.
Madden of Madden Dairy Farms in Lebanon had New London Fire Department at his farm for a combined eight hours April 17-18. The purlins between the rafters began to crack so firefighters shot water at the roof from an aerial truck.
“They did an awesome job,” Madden said. “A couple of those guys worked pretty darn hard. They were chopping at it with a shovel. It was not easy. You kind of felt bad watching them wishing you can help but you can’t.”
While the barn roof did not collapse, Madden described the ordeal as “very, very stressful.”
“The little bit of stuff that we had to deal with, it took all week and it was pretty nerve-racking,” Madden said. “The little bit that we had, I cannot imagine the barns with total collapses or partial collapses.”
One farm that was less fortunate is Triple D Dairy in Larrabee. Owner Dave Viergutz said a 24-by-40-foot section of roof came down April 16.
Presumably no cows were crushed, but Viergutz had to wait until he could access the debris to confirm that.
He called Clintonville Fire Department the next day to clear off snow and prevent another section from collapsing.
Despite the damage, Viergutz said he had an easier situation than other farmers did because he probably did not lose cattle.
“Be praying for the farmers,” he added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re dairy or crops, we’re all hurting a little bit.”
#FarmStrong to the rescue
Clintonville resident Kelly Zahn was fortunate because her parents’ operation, Douglas Behnke Farms southwest of Clintonville, only sustained minor damage from the snowstorm.
But scrolling through social media afterward and seeing all her farm neighbors’ stories of misfortune, she said she felt “a nudge from the Holy Spirit that we needed to do something.”
Zahn recruited Kris Stilen, a frequent volunteer cook at St. Mary Parish in Bear Creek, to help launch a grassroots operation they dubbed “#FarmStrong.” On April 18, Zahn used Facebook to ask the public for locations of farms that were damaged by the snowstorm as well as for cash, checks and baked goods.
GreenStone Farm Credit Services in Clintonville and CHS Larsen Cooperative in New London immediately offered drop-off sites for donations.
Then on April 20, about 30 volunteers assembled at St. Mary to cook or deliver hot meals to 30 farms around Bear Creek, New London, Manawa, Clintonville and Shawano.
Each farm received lasagna, ham and scalloped potatoes, a vegetable tray, cheese tray, case of water, gallon of chocolate milk and a dessert tray.
“I know that this isn’t going to fix anybody’s buildings or anything like that, but I feel that it’s so important to let those farmers know that there is an entire community of people here supporting them and that are here for them,” Zahn said. “And hey, if we can get them a couple of warm meals when [they] come in from the barn at night, it’s nice to not have to think about what’s for supper.”
#FarmStrong attracted more donations than were needed to cover the costs of the food, so the leftover funds will be donated to area fire departments to help them handle more emergencies in the future, Zahn said.
“We’ve just had an outpouring of donations from so many people in the community, businesses, individuals,” Zahn said. “I mean so many times I’ve gotten on the verge of tears, like, ‘What? What do you want to give us?’ It’s just been so great.”