The collapsed freestall barn at Brian Schanbacher’s dairy lies in front of an older barn housing his robots near Newhall, Iowa. The robots survived the derecho but the wiring, pipeline and attached freestall barn damage required Schanbacher to move his cows to neighboring dairies after the storm Aug. 10. 
PHOTO SUBMITTED
The collapsed freestall barn at Brian Schanbacher’s dairy lies in front of an older barn housing his robots near Newhall, Iowa. The robots survived the derecho but the wiring, pipeline and attached freestall barn damage required Schanbacher to move his cows to neighboring dairies after the storm Aug. 10. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A derecho, a long-lived straight-lined wind storm that is often referred to as an inland hurricane, caused $14 million destruction in Iowa crops that headlined the news surrounding the unusual storm that developed in Iowa and crossed the Midwest Aug. 10. But dairy farm buildings and animals were also caught in the path of the winds the National Weather Service estimated as high as 130 mph.
    A half-dozen or more dairy farms near Cedar Rapids, one of the hardest-hit cities, suffered damage that in some cases meant moving cows to other farms. Dairies across the state were without power, some for a few days and others more than a week. Cell phone service and broadband was down, causing difficulty reaching family, employees, electricians and other critical help.
    “I bet it blew for 50 minutes or at over 80 mph with gusts well over 100 mph,” said Bob Kettelkamp.
    Kettelkamp lost all or parts of three barns, three silos and four grain bins on the farm he operates with his brother, Bill, near Marion, just east of Cedar Rapids. A manure spreader was tossed upside down and a Quonset hut was moved off its foundation.
    A newer freestall barn survived but with one end pushed 20 feet outward and the curtain sides missing.
    “Our roof steel is all over the county,” Kettelkamp said.
    The brothers lost one cow and were able to keep milking in their parlor using a generator until power was restored after eight days. Two dairy farms on the opposite side of Cedar Rapids from the Kettelkamp farm were not as fortunate.
    Ron Franck, of Newhall, has sent his milking cows to three other eastern Iowa dairies while he picks up the pieces of his 220-cow freestall barn and parlor. A heifer barn, unused silo and trees were also taken out by the storm.
    “Basically, it’s the whole thing,” said Franck, who did not lose any cattle immediately but shipped 15 head due to being, what he called, banged up from debris.
    Franck said his heifers likely ran out of the building to survive, because they continued walking out of cornfields into the farmyard most of Monday.
    The storm hit the Newhall area at about 12:30 p.m.
    Brian Schanbacher, a mile away from the Franck farm, was eating lunch with his wife, Kristen, in their home on their 100-cow robotic dairy.
    “I felt safe in the house,” Schanbacher said. “But I could see the trees getting snapped off and uprooted, and the trampoline blowing around. I wasn’t able to see the extent of the damage to the freestall barn until I went out after the storm had passed. Only the north wall was standing and there was no roof.”
    The farm’s robots are on the east end of the collapsed 66-by-120 foot freestall barn, and milk is pumped 240 feet to the bulk tank through a cross alley. The alley and a portion of the attached older barn was destroyed in the storm, compromising the pipeline and the communication to the robots.
    In addition, the storm destroyed a 60-foot silo but spared his machine shed, shop and grain bins.
    Not one cow was lost at his farm, although one heifer was put down and two others may not survive.
    Schanbacher’s robotic dealer found a way for the robots to begin milking cows by 7:30 p.m. Monday using a generator. Most cows were milked once, but the level of destruction meant by Tuesday, Schanbacher was moving the milking cows to two other dairies.
    With powerlines still down at his farm, Schanbacher went into a second week without power. He said he may not be milking at home until next year.
    Two of his cousins who also dairy in the area experienced significant damage as well.
    Schanbacher Acres, owned by J, Barb, Allan and Joyce Schanbacher near Atkins, sustained damage to three silos, a grain bin, a machine shed and commodity shed. Power came back on the eighth day after the storm.
    “All of our animal housing facilities are fine, except for calf huts,” said Carissa Buttjer, assistant herdsman for Schanbacher Acres. “Those were blown a half mile away through two fields and down into a neighbor’s creek. All calves were found unharmed.”
    One of the huts hit a pickup truck that was with a group of employees baling hay. The driver and five other employees were taken by surprise while in the field or surrounding buildings but also came through without injuries.
    Like other dairy farmers in the area, Buttjer and her team are scrambling to clean up debris while figuring out how to manage the loss of feedstuffs and changes in how the feed is delivered. The corn crop is flattened, with silage cutting having been several weeks away. Each dairy farmer hopes to recover some of the corn, but the value is questionable.
    “The corn is flat and leafless now. It is all starting to die,” Kettelkamp said.
    “We’ve had our nutritionist here almost every day helping us to get creative with our feed sources,” Buttjer said.
    Schanbacher Acres has Franck’s silage crew chopping corn with plans to feed it as green chop for now. Earlage and silage in the damaged Schanbacher Acres’ silos is inaccessible, and silage bags of haylage are full of holes from calf huts hitting them, Buttjer said.
    Roughly 30 miles southwest, the 1,550-cow Bear Creek Dairy near Brooklyn had a large standby generator ready to operate. Damage was mainly limited to crops, but the farm spent 80 hours without power.
    “We bought the generator because we heard all these stories when we moved here,” said Dorine Boelen, who began Bear Creek with her husband, Jan, in 2009. “It delivered what it promised.”
    Boelen’s team used empty cleaning supply totes to move water to its heifer facilities located several miles away.
    Milk truck driver Jon Silver, of Tom W. Silver Trucking in Marion, rode out the storm in a patron’s milkhouse near Newton – 90 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids. He had to rescue the farm dog and close windows when debris cut through milkhouse screens. Later, he maneuvered along highways littered with trees and power lines to deliver his load.
    “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Silver said. “That stop was in Newton, and normally I drive two and a half hours to the plant in Dubuque. That day it took six hours.”
    The trucking company had damage at its shop. In the days following the storm, Silver saw delays in his route because of farm generators that delayed milking and pumping, but no milk on his route was dumped.
    Not so at one farm near Boone, two hours west of Cedar Rapids, where Kathy Haub and their dairy dumped one tank before they were able to get a generator.
    Generosity became apparent through the crisis. At Bear Creek Dairy, employees were provided with hot food and showers because their own homes had no power and, in some cases, damage from the storm. Employees at Schanbacher Acres brought family members to help clean up debris.
    At the Kettelkamp farm, Bob and Bill were surprised when a van drove into the farmyard the day after the storm, delivering food and water.
    Franck found homes for his cows quickly just by texting fellow dairy farmers and had other help in the crisis.
    “College friends were here; we had a Mennonite crew cleaning up on Tuesday, and we’ve got tons of food that’s come,” Franck said.
    But the unusual storm added multiple new layers to this year’s challenges for the Iowa dairies in the storm’s path.
    “It’s 2020,” Jan Boelen said. “What else can happen?”