Barn roofs in northeastern Wisconsin have collapsed this week under the weight of heavy snow, killing cows and disrupting milking operations.
One of the largest barns held 1,100 cows. But all of them got out safely before the roof fell in, said J.J. Pagel with Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy in Kewaunee. “It’s pretty much a total loss. Over two-thirds of that roof collapsed,” Pagel said.
The Pagel family founded its dairy farm 72 years ago with fewer than 10 cows, a handful of hogs and some chickens. Now, the family-owned operation has more than 5,300 cows and barns about the length of a football field.
In February, J.J.’s father, John Pagel, was killed in a plane crash in Indiana. John’s son-in-law, Steve Witcpalek, and pilot Nathan Saari also were killed. Tuesday, the Pagels had a crew of 35 shoveling snow from the barn roofs. Some of it was still 4 feet deep. One of the roofs, J.J. Pagel said, was starting to bow “like a banana.”
“We grabbed a crew of guys and started shoveling,” he said. The weekend blizzard that pummeled the region left snow drifts 10 feet deep next to some barns, frustrating efforts to get ladders and snow removal equipment up on the roof.
“All weekend long it was absolutely terrifying to know that another section could come down,” Heather Jauquet said. “And for 36 hours, not knowing whether there was a cow trapped under there, was agonizing.”
In the midst of the storm that packed wind gusts of up to 55 mph, the Jauquets were able to finish milking and care for their herd of about 350 cows.They also helped birth a calf. “My first reaction was to name her ‘Monster,’ for the storm, but I made a promise that if we got through this without any more damage, I would name her ‘Miracle,’” Heather Jauquet said.
Also near Pulaski, parts of several barn roofs collapsed at Betley Family Farms, owned by Jeff and Jena Betley. The first section went down Saturday morning, followed by a couple more sections Saturday night and one on Monday. One of the Betleys’ cows was killed, and another one needed to be euthanized.
The farm had to dump milk because its milk hauler couldn’t get down the snow-clogged road for more than a day to make the pickup. “We are just in survival mode, or crisis mode, whatever you want to call it,” Jena Betley said.
The Betleys were in the house when the first section of their barn roof buckled and broke under the snow’s weight. It was about 5:30 a.m. “We heard a big, crashing, rumbling noise. We didn’t know what it was, but we knew something catastrophic had happened,” Jena Betley said.
They have several barns on their third-generation family farm that milks 1,500 cows. “We’ve got damage on pretty much every barn,” Jena Betley said. “But other people around here had a lot more damage, so that kind of puts it in perspective.”
Near Oconto Falls, O’Harrow Family Farm employees have been scrambling since the roof collapsed on one of the farm’s dairy barns Sunday morning. The barn held 1,000 cattle, said owner Tim O’Harrow.
“The center alley of the barn was destroyed. We still have some cows underneath the debris. We got all the healthy cows out,” he said Sunday. O’Harrow said he had heard there were between five and 10 other barns in his area with collapsed roofs. He plans to have the roof taken off his barn as soon as possible, then move the herd back inside so they are sheltered from the wind. “The cows will have to be under the stars,” he said.
In Outagamie County, roofs collapsed on two barns in the towns of Oneida and Freedom, said Outagamie County Sheriff’s Sgt. Alex Krueger. Milk haulers were having trouble reaching farms on icy, snow-covered roads, so farmers were using tractors to help them. Some of the barns that sustained damage were fairly new, built in the last 20 years.
Heather Jauquet said her farm will be OK. “I don’t know how long it will be before our roof is fixed, because there are so many other farms in a more dire situation,” she said.