September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Fire claims cows, barn on Milaca dairy farm

Hanenburgs uncertain what future holds
The Hanenburg family suffered from a fire on their four-generation dairy farm on Nov. 18 near Milaca, Minn. The family is pictured (from left) Elroy, Marcus, Curt, Mitchell, Sharon and Marisa.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN
The Hanenburg family suffered from a fire on their four-generation dairy farm on Nov. 18 near Milaca, Minn. The family is pictured (from left) Elroy, Marcus, Curt, Mitchell, Sharon and Marisa.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN

By by Missy Mussman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

MILACA, Minn. - The last thing Curt and Sharon Hanenburg expected to do before going to bed on Nov. 18 was putting out a fire in their own dairy barn.
The Hanenburg family suffered a fire on their four-generation dairy farm where they milked 70 cows near Milaca, Minn. On Nov. 18, a fire engulfed the tiestall barn, which housed the milking herd. The family lost their barn and all but 11 of their milking cows in the fire.
"It was unbelievable," Sharon said.
That evening started out like any other. Curt and Sharon had finished milking cows that evening by 5, and were dosing off to the TV in the living room. At 7:30 p.m., their neighbor, Jim Kragt, opened the door yelling to Curt and Sharon that their barn was on fire.
"We shot up when he said that," Sharon said. "We didn't know what was going on. He yelled again and Curt flew out of the house."
"My first thought I had was, we have to get the cows out," Curt said.
Sharon immediately grabbed the phone, called 911 and then followed Curt outside to the barn.
"You couldn't see in the barn it was so black with smoke. The hottest part was in the milkhouse," Sharon said. "The overhead power circuit was popping. It looked like the Fourth of July."
The firefighters had arrived and had been working on putting out the fire for nearly three hours when they noticed there were still cows inside.
"I heard them yell there were still cows in the barn. I kept closing my ears not wanting to hear it," Sharon said. "I looked and cows were walking out. It was unbelievable. They were so dazed."
Sharon and Curt threw a rope halter on those cows and moved them to safety.
A bull calf born the night before was carried out of the fire as well.
"We lost his mother in the fire," Sharon said. "When they carried him out, I was relieved. I was relieved when any one of them came out."
Meanwhile, the Hanenburg's daughter, Marisa (22), was at a class in St. Cloud when she received a text telling her the barn was on fire.
"I left class early and couldn't get a hold of anyone," Marisa said. "I was afraid. All I could think about was the cows that were inside. I felt bad I wasn't home right away."
The tiestall barn was lost. They were able to rescue 14 of the 70 cows in the fire, but had to put two of them down due to lung damage and burns. Another was shipped the morning of Nov. 22.
The vet has looked at the remaining cows and some of them are still in question if their lungs will recover.
The Hanenburgs still have 37 calves, 26 open heifers, three bred heifers and six dry cows.
The surviving milk cows were moved to Dale, Shelley and Tim Looney's farm while the dry cows were moved to Mike Kok's farm as the Hanenburgs started to clean up.
Although it has been difficult, the family has seen an outpouring of generosity from their community.
People have been dropping off food and meals. Kevin Santema and his son, Mitch, have been running the excavator and dump trucks everyday to aid in the clean up.
"I can't tell you how many people have come to hug, cry and sit with us," Sharon said. "We want to express our thanks to all the firemen, family and friends who have been so supportive."
"We feel very blessed with the help we have been receiving," Curt said.
In the days following the fire, the Hanenburgs are still struggling to grasp their new reality.
"It's tough," Sharon said with a waiver in her voice and tears gathering in her eyes. "It was always Curt and I, side by side, milking the cows."
The Hanenburg dairy farm has been in the family since Aug. 15, 1912, when John and Elsie Hanenburg purchased the farm. Curt's father, Elroy, took over the farm in 1959 from his parents, Ted and Margaret.
Curt purchased six cows while he was in high school in order to start buying into the farm. Since his senior year in high school, the growth of the herd has been internal.
"We haven't bought a cow or heifer since. We have been a closed herd," Sharon said. "It's all been on our own."
Curt married Sharon on April 21, 1990, and they have worked on the dairy farm together since.
"I grew up with it," Curt said. "I really enjoy it."
"He's my best friend, and we work well together," Sharon said. "He lives and breathes for this."
In 1994, the Hanenburgs built a new barn able to hold 60 cows but kept with the tiestall design. By 2003, the Hanenburgs were milking 70 cows and decided to convert the old calf barn attached to the barn into a freestall attachment with 12 comfort stalls in it.
"We are proud of what we built," Sharon said. "We have worked hard to do it and have a nice facility."
Curt and Sharon raised their three children, Marisa (22), Marcus (20) and Mitchell (19) on their dairy farm.
"I loved raising the kids here," Sharon said. "I wouldn't give that up for anything."
With the recent fire, the Hanenburgs are facing their biggest decision of rebuilding or not.
"I wish it was as easy as someone telling us what to do," Sharon said.
"If I was 10 years younger, it would be more of a for sure," Curt said.
Both Marcus and Mitchell have expressed interest in returning to the farm, but Curt and Sharon don't know what their decision will be.
"If they would want to milk cows, we would put up a new facility tomorrow," Sharon said. "We just don't want them to have to make that decision right now while they are in college."
With things still up in the air, the Hanenburgs are holding onto the heifers.
"That way we have them in case we decide to rebuild," Sharon said.
Through this whole week, the Hanenburgs are still feeling their loss.
"I feel like I lost a bunch of sisters," Marisa said.
"Losing the cattle has been the hardest thing," Curt said with tears in his eyes. "I feel so lost."
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