A crushing blow

Steer facilities ruined by May storm


GRATIOT, Wis. — Josh Larson had been home after evening chores for just 30 minutes on Tuesday, May 21, and was listening to a thunderstorm rage outside, when his mother called that the steer shed had been damaged.

Josh lives about 10 miles from the dairy. He and his wife, Rachel, put their boots back on and headed out the door. Josh called his daughter, Ashley Bruegger, and his cousin, Brandon Larson, who had both just made it home as well. Everyone returned to the farm where their steer shed had been blown over by straight-line winds.

“There were 200 head of cattle in that building,” Josh said. “The steers were all pinned.”

Josh milks 150 cows near Gratiot with his Brandon, and Ashley Bruegger. He is assisted by his uncle, Gordy Larson, as well. The farm is owned by his mother, Nikki Larson.

When they arrived, it was 8 p.m. and dark. The entire roof of the shed had been torn off and had went through other buildings. The posts remained, bent over and trapping the cattle. They could see that other buildings were damaged, but their priority was freeing the trapped cattle.

“Those cattle literally had to (have the posts) be removed (off them) with a chainsaw,” Josh said. “Some were down, some were just stuck in all the triangles. You know at some point every one of those animals had to be laying out flat on the ground. By the time we got to them most of them were back on their feet but most of them were stuck in the debris.”

Though it was a mess, the Larsons worked carefully to extract animals while using skid loaders to lift poles off when they could.

Brandon said everything went OK.

“One pen had 28 steers in it, and we got 15 out right away and then another few, and just slowly it went,” he said.

The Larsons found one steer with a broken leg which seemed to be the only major injury. As they assessed the cattle in the following days, they noticed a few more that were walking, but had discomfort somewhere.

After moving cattle so that all were safe, the Larsons cleaned up the next day. There was debris all over the farm. People came to help and pick things up just so they could move around. In the days that followed they even found tin across the field on the neighbor’s farm.

The Larsons called a salvage company that brought dumpsters and grapple trucks to haul away the tin. After a day of dragging tin to the grapple truck, they were able to get rid of the lumber.

Once most of the debris from the building was cleaned up, the Larsons worked on feed recovery. In all, seven silage bags were ripped open with gaping holes on top. One bag had a hole 100 feet long on one side. They have yet to find the chunk of plastic that was used to cover the silage. The Larsons hired a custom bagger to re-bag what they could. They ended up with three bags of newly bagged feed before the custom bagger had to move on to a scheduled job.

Then, the Larsons transitioned to saving corn. Two grain bins were damaged along with a commodity shed that lost its roof and was left with leaning cement walls. One grain bin’s roof caved in, while the other was full of debris and water.

“The corn was just drowning in there,” Josh said. “We transferred 20,000 bushels of corn and moved it into storage units that weren’t damaged. The roofs are inside out.”

Even with all the damage that has been done to their farm, the Larsons consider themselves lucky that the dairy operation has been able to operate near normal as the freestall barn and parlor were not harmed. Still, without the steer shed, there is not enough room for the replacement heifers.

The Larsons are considering their options for moving forward, working with insurance adjusters to determine what is best for them.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet,” Josh said. “We are moving forward with a rebuild. However, we have signed no papers.”


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