This aerial photo depicts the Madejskis’ farm near Chetek, Wis., before a barn fire claimed all but 50 heifers on Oct. 26, 2013.
This aerial photo depicts the Madejskis’ farm near Chetek, Wis., before a barn fire claimed all but 50 heifers on Oct. 26, 2013. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    CHETEK, Wis. – A four-row freestall barn is quiet with the ambiance of contented animals, except for the sound of clinking headlocks and cattle ambling up and down the alleys, at the Madejskis’ farm east of Chetek, Wis.
    For Dennis and Sue Madejski, who milk 90 cows on their Rusk County dairy farm, seeing a barn full of cows after losing nearly everything to a barn fire Oct. 26, 2013, might be a dream come true.
    “We lost everything except our house, machine shed and two Harvestore silos,” Dennis said. “We started over with 25 open heifers.”
    The fire, which was thought to be electrical, started in their calf barn, which was added to the main barn in 1991 after a windstorm damaged their former calf shed.
    It spread to the freestall barn, built in 1969 by Dennis’ parents, Matt and Mary, and to the heifer barn attached to the west side of the freestall.
    “Everything was connected, so when we discovered the fire it was too late,” Sue said.
    The decision to start over again was in no way easy. At the time of the fire, Sue was 53 and Dennis was 56, and both of their daughters had careers off the farm.
    “The low milk price of 2009 was still fresh in our minds, and we had to wait on insurance,” Sue said. “It would have likely been the easy way out, but we never ruled out getting back in.”
    The Madejskis had 50 heifers that were spared at the time of the fire, half of which were bred and the other half being open. The bred heifers were shipped right away, while the open heifers were moved to a nearby barn and fed baled hay all winter.
    “We thought by spring we’d have a better idea of what to do, and we had a year to rebuild if we wanted to,” Sue said. “We got a bull to breed those open heifers, but it turned out that he was bad and didn’t get everything pregnant.”
    Those open heifers ended up becoming a blessing in disguise despite the fact that they would be calving in a bit older than Dennis and Sue would have liked. After touring farms with a builder over the winter, they visited a freestall barn they liked and used as a model for their construction, which began in 2014.
    “It’s just the two of us, and we wanted to stay the same size,” Sue said. “We didn’t want anything fancy, and we were trying to stay within the insurance settlement.”
    In addition to a new freestall barn, the Madejskis built a heifer barn several hundred feet to the south for weaned calves up to bred heifers.
    “Because winter came early in 2014 there were some construction delays, so the barn wasn’t finished until the spring of 2015,” Dennis said. “After bringing those heifers back, we had an A.I. tech come and do the breeding. All of them were pregnant on the first service. What would we have done if they were all pregnant by that bull and the barn wasn’t finished?”
    Sue agreed that everything worked out for the better.
    “We jumped in without a plan, but everything fell into place,” Sue said.
    Compared to their old barn, air flow is considerably better and each cow has their own stall. After the cows moved into the new freestall, milk production went up considerably as a result.
    “Old freestall barns were built with low ceilings in mind and kept pretty warm, so there was no ventilation,” Dennis said. “Also, we were very overstocked in the old barn because it only had 65 stalls. Now, each cow has her own stall so overstocking is no longer an issue.”
    The Madejskis also built a double-6 parlor to replace the double-4 that Matt had built in 1969.
    In addition to the learning curve that comes with new buildings, Sue made the switch to raising calves in hutches instead of building a new calf barn.
    “Just like with everything else, there’s a learning curve, but Sue doesn’t lose calves,” Dennis said. “One thing about the old barn compared to the new barn is that the old barn didn’t have windows, so now we actually see what’s going on outside such as sunrises, sunsets, wildlife, and cars going to and from work. The world could have ended and we wouldn’t have known it in the old barn.”
    All in all, the Madejskis made the best of a bad situation.
    “Rebuilding went the way we thought it would,” Sue said. “There were things that came up that we had to learn, but we’re still doing what we like. We keep looking at each other and asking the other if they like farming yet, so I think we’re still happy. We don’t plan too far ahead for the future. We’re just going to get up tomorrow morning and milk cows, and the morning after that and the morning after that.”