May 12, 2023 at 1:18 p.m.
The Day that went Awry

Schliep Dairy prevails after devastating tornado

2022 Memorial Day storm ravages western MN farm

By Hans Lammeman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HOLLOWAY, Minn. – Denise Schliep and her two sons, Matt and William, hurried downstairs to their basement last Memorial Day as winds whipped around their home and the mid-afternoon sky turned dark gray; a tornado had touched down on their family farm near Holloway.
Within seconds, a blue hue returned to the sky and the storm released its grip on the home. Matt recalled a brief message communicated over the emergency dispatch, “Schliep Dairy is gone.”
Nearly a year later, the fifth-generation dairy continues to recover from the damages, persisting with their 110-cow operation after moving enough debris for milk trucks to navigate the property. Although repairs are in progress, the Schlieps estimate the 30-second storm totaled upward of $700,000 in damage to their farm where they milk with a robotic milking system.
After quickly emerging from their home to survey the property the family had farmed for more than 150 years, Matt and Denise realized every building sustained damage. The twister ripped the barn, which housed about 20 Angus cattle and 80 Holstein heifers, from the ground, leaving behind only the cattle and 4-foot cement walls that formed the structure’s base.
“It was so quick that you didn’t have a chance to think,” Denise said. “Afterward, we were grateful that there was damage to buildings but not to people or livestock. None of the cattle were even injured in it.”
The Schlieps said the same tornado went on to devastate the city of Forada, about 45 miles northeast. The National Weather Service reported winds up to 120 mph with evidence of a path width of at least a half mile.
The tight-knit Holloway community swiftly rallied behind the Schlieps, showing up for the first round of cleanup that same evening before another storm passed through the area. The following morning, dozens of neighbors and church members worked on the property for nearly six hours to remove eight semi-loads of debris.
Matt and his mother expressed gratitude for everyone who supported them in the days following the tragedy. Although they were not surprised by the community’s help, they also did not expect it.
“We are thankful they came; it was amazing what they did,” Denise said. “We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did without the help that they gave us. There was so much damage. Someone made the comment that it looked like a war zone.”
Demolition on a barn that previously served as the parlor began in early July 2022 followed by two stave silos and a Harvestore silo that previously served as a landmark to drivers in the Holloway area passing by the dairy on the adjacent highway.
The Schlieps said dealing with insurance throughout the past 12 months proved to be a consistent headache. They encouraged farmers to keep a close eye on their insurance policy, especially if it has not been updated since rising costs over the last several years.
One of the biggest challenges for the operation since the storm has been shifting cattle around the property during the rebuilding process, which was delayed by a particularly long winter. While Matt jokingly said he wants the new calf barn complete by yesterday, they hope to move calves into the barn mid-June.
The Schlieps are ultimately thankful the damages were not any worse and said similar destruction to the milk barn would likely have shut down the dairy operation for good. Despite a year riddled with the challenges of continuing work as normal while recovering from the tornado, the family relied on humor and a positive outlook to overcome the adversity.
“You can’t curl up in the fetal position and get anywhere, so you’ve got to keep a positive attitude and sense of humor with it all,” Denise said.
Matt said he still collects debris scattered by the storm with each venture into the 650 acres of corn, alfalfa, soybean and wheat fields. Now, the storm simply represents another chapter in the 15-decade history of Schliep Dairy, one that will result in a new calf barn the family wanted for years.
“Some days, all of a sudden it hits you, then other days you just carry on,” Denise said. “You don’t have much of a choice; if you want to stay in, you have to keep going.”


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