January 30, 2022 at 6:22 p.m.
On Jan. 19, the milkhouse and barn were completely engulfed in flames. By the time Zimmerman got the call from his daughter, Jacinda, who saw the smoke and flames rising into the sky from 2 miles away, the roof had already collapsed.
Zimmerman immediately went for a fire extinguisher but realized the level of destruction the minute he walked outside into the cold night air. It was 10:30 p.m., he had been asleep, having last checked on the barn one hour earlier when everything was fine.
He and his son, Jeffrey, rushed to the attached freestyle barn that held the cows, they opened the door and started to get the animals out. They went inside the barn half a dozen times as the rafters above shimmered in fire and fires began to set ablaze in the stalls.
At one point, Zimmerman said he was nearly overcome with smoke.
“It’s hard to explain, I don’t know quite how to say it,” Zimmerman said. “They were a part of you and you hear them bellering in the barn and you know you have to get them out.”
Jeffrey told his dad not to go back inside but Zimmerman said he could still hear cows and had to help them. The two were able to get out every animal but one.
The family had 70 cows and has been milking in the barn since 2001. The barn was built in the 1960s and was wood construction with a hay mow on top.
As firefighters worked the scene, the cows milled around and Zimmerman shifted animals, making space for them in the youngstock pens at the dairy where he also runs 190 acres.
It was not until the next morning, as the sun came up, that Zimmerman realized just how bad things were. All but eight of the herd had been burned, their hair singed, red marks on their flesh. The insulating wrap on the ceiling got so hot during the blaze, Paul said, that it melted and dripped onto the cows. Those cows were culled.
“I had no idea it would have been that bad when we got them out,” Zimmerman said.
Ten of the younger animals, on their first or second lactation, went to another farm.
Though Zimmerman does not yet know the official cause of the fire, he said the fire marshal pointed to the general area of the barn’s shop which housed a wood boiler used for heating the shop space. Additionally, there was an air compressor there that was giving Zimmerman trouble the day before.
Though the couple, who have three children at home, was getting to the point where they planned to slowly start feeding cattle out, they are now moving into that stage a lot faster. Now, they are working on fattening out beef, heifers and steers.
Zimmerman liked being a dairy farmer and everything that came along with it.
“Chores, I always enjoyed that and the cattle, it’s just something that kind of became a part of us over the years,” Zimmerman said.
For Zimmerman, the mangled mess of aluminum door that once welcomed him to the milking barn, is a sweet and sad reminder of what has been the status quo for more than two decades.
“We go in and out of those doors, and you know for 20 years, you make things happen that need to get done every day,” he said. “Just the other morning I saw the milkhouse door, the aluminum frame was laying out in the driveway and the glass was gone… I used to walk through that door every day.”