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

Paying it forward

Minkses house neighboring dairy herd after barn fire
A barn fire on April 2 quickly destroyed this dairy barn owned by Craig and Miriam Millam near Milaca, Minn. The Millams are planning to rebuild and hope to be in their new facility by the Fourth of July.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED
A barn fire on April 2 quickly destroyed this dairy barn owned by Craig and Miriam Millam near Milaca, Minn. The Millams are planning to rebuild and hope to be in their new facility by the Fourth of July.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED

By By Jennifer Burggraff- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

MILACA, Minn. - When Craig and Miriam Millam of Milaca, Minn., lost their freestall barn and parlor in a fire on April 2, their first thought was, "What are we going to do?"
It was mid-afternoon and they had nowhere to milk their cows that night.
Little did they know that even as their facility was being consumed by raging flames, neighbors were working together to ensure the Millam herd would continue and not end up at the sales barn.
Jeff and Linda Minks milk a mixed herd of around 105 cows on their farm 10 miles northeast of the Millam farm. Jeff and Craig serve on the local creamery board together, and when Craig called to say he wouldn't make the meeting on April 2 because his barn was on fire, Jeff and other creamery board members quickly jumped into action.
"We adjourned the meeting early," Jeff said.
They searched empty barns in the area, looking for one with usable equipment that the Millams could house their herd in, but to no avail. From there, they went to the Millam farm and took matters into their own hands.
"He (Jeff) asked if I was ok, and the next thing he said was, 'The cows are coming [to my place],'" Craig said.
"That had been my first thought," Linda said of housing the Millam herd after hearing about their fire.
The Minkses' willingness to take in another dairy herd and increase their cow numbers by 50 percent - as well as their workload - in a matter of hours is no surprise, knowing their history. They knew what the Millams were going through from personal experience. They lost their barn in a fire in 1991 and neighbors Burt and Connie Bartz of Princeton, Minn., generously offered to take in their herd while they rebuilt.
"At around 3 in the afternoon we saw the fire," Burt said of the Minkses' fire in 1991. "We went there and they were like, 'Where do we take the cows? What do we do?' and [the cows] ended up here."
The Bartzes took in the Minks herd again nine years later when Jeff had to have emergency open-heart surgery and Linda was recovering from a broken pelvis.
"We brought our herd there twice. Now that's a really good neighbor," Jeff said, smiling.
For the Minkses, taking in the Millam herd wasn't only a way of helping a neighbor in need, it was a way of paying forward the favor offered to them by the Bartzes.
"[We] know what it is like," Jeff said. "... It is nice to return the favor."
"Dairymen are pretty good [like that]. They help each other out," Burt said.
The Millam fire happened around 1:15 p.m. on April 2. By 6 p.m. that evening, the Millams' 57 Normandy-Holstein cross cows were being milked in the Minkses' double-15 parlor.
"That first night was noisy," Miriam said. "I think [our cows] were crying as much as we were."
The two herds were comingled from the start. While Jeff expected cow fights to break out in the tight housing quarters, it never happened. In fact, the two herds never really missed a beat; production has remained steady and SCC has actually gone down, they said.
"I can't believe how well it's going," Craig said.
For the first week, Craig and Miriam came to the Minks farm for both milkings.
"Our thought was to keep their patron number going," Jeff said.
Now, however, the Minkses are leasing the cows from the Millams. The Minkses do the morning milking with help from employee Austin Grimm, who had been a relief milker for the Millams. The Millams come in the afternoon for the evening milking.
"It all would have been a lot tougher without Austin," Craig said. "Our cows knew him, which helped a lot."
While the Millams are getting used to their new schedule and commuting every day to milk their cows, the reality of what happened hits home every time they see the wreckage of their old barn.
"It's still a shock to look across the road and see the barn that's been there 100 years gone," Craig said.
But shock hasn't deterred their determination to continue on in the dairy industry.
"We decided we were going to rebuild when the barn was still burning, but it took a week - that's when the clouds lifted," Miriam said. "We have direction, a purpose. We're going to do it."
The Millams are waiting on a few details before they start the building process. Prior to the fire, they were milking in a barn across the road from their house; now they plan to add a parlor and milkhouse to an existing barn on the same side of the road as the house, converting that building into their new dairy barn. They hope to be up and running in the new facility by the Fourth of July.
The last month has certainly been a whirlwind for both the Minkses and the Millams, but it's given the Minkses a chance to help a neighbor in need and has shown the Millams the power of selfless acts of kindness. Should the opportunity arise, the Millams said they will continue to pay that generosity forward.
"I think we would have beforehand, but being in that position, I have no shadow of doubt that we would," Miriam said.
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