Debris is scattered across the Meyers’ dairy farm near Kenyon, Minn. A tornado hit the farm on the evening of Sept. 20.
Debris is scattered across the Meyers’ dairy farm near Kenyon, Minn. A tornado hit the farm on the evening of Sept. 20. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    KENYON, Minn. – Despite the challenges dairy farmers are facing, Alan and Sharon Meyer are grateful for the very industry they are a part of.
    After a fall storm passed through southern Minnesota Sept. 20, destroying the Meyers’ freestall barn and robotic milking room, the support they have received has made it possible for the them to move forward.
    “It is so humbling to know all the people who came and helped us cope with this, because there was no time for us to sit by ourselves and think about it,” Sharon said. “If it wasn’t for family, friends and even strangers, I don’t know what we would’ve done.”
    Alan and Sharon and their son and daughter-in-law, Andy and Samantha, milk 120 cows and run 700 acres of land near Kenyon, Minn. Prior to the Sept. 20 storm, the milking herd was housed in a 115-stall freestall barn and milked with two Lely robots installed in 2010.
    The Meyers vividly recalled the evening that has forever changed their lives.
    As Alan finished chores, Andy was at his home with his three small children in Nerstrand, Minn.
    “[Andy] checked his phone for the weather and let me know the storm was coming,” Alan said. “I only had about 20 minutes of chores left. We both thought I could handle it on my own.”
    By 6:30 p.m., the storm arrived. Alan was in the farm’s shop when the electricity went off. With cows in the robots, Alan quickly released them to the freestall barn and headed into the home for shelter.
    “I went right to the basement,” Alan said. “Then, the noise came and our house shook. We heard an explosion in the basement. … One of the windows was smashed in.”
    In less than a minute, the storm passed.
    The National Weather Service confirmed it was an EF1 tornado – with winds up to 110 miles per hour – one of 16 tornadoes confirmed that evening.
    Alan and Sharon quickly peered outside, first noticing the grainery was no longer standing.
    “I went outside and I couldn’t see the barn,” Alan said. “I knew I was in trouble.”
    Sharon agreed.
    “I knew something was wrong when he grabbed my hand and he was shaking. All he could say was, ‘Remember to breathe,’” she said of Alan. “We turned the corner of the building, and I saw the robot barn … my breath caught.”
    The 68- by 214-foot freestall barn was completely destroyed with the roof swept off the structure and resting atop the stalls and headlocks; the robot room was in similar disarray. Power lines and trees were down, blocking the Meyers’ driveway.
    Additionally, a 40-acre field was damaged, which the Meyers now plan to have custom harvested.
    Alan called his mother, who lives on the farm’s other homestead, as well as a nearby neighbor. Both had little-to-no damage.
    After only a short time, the Meyers were welcomed with an immense amount of help.
    “There were people we didn’t even know who were helping,” Sharon said. “Someone came and dropped off two big bags of strong gloves and cases of water. We have no idea who he was, but we went through both items quickly and are very grateful for that.”
    Large equipment and trailers lined the farm property ready to relocate animals.
    The milking herd was trapped in the freestall barn, with the facility’s roof creating smaller pens for the animals. The facility’s trusses were cut apart to release the cows.
    Within an hour, the Meyers’ milking herd was relocated to another robotic dairy that was not running at full capacity. This allowed the herd an evening milking. Since then, the herd has been split between two dairies – Wolf Creek Dairy in Dundas, Minn., and Clay View Dairy in Goodhue, Minn.
    “We know both dairies, and they’re super people,” Sharon said.
    Alan agreed.
    “As far as I know, it’s working really well,” he said. “The cows will have to be retrained for robots.”
    The Meyers’ calves are raised by a custom grower and return to the dairy at 1 year old. Although the storm entirely destroyed the freestall barn and robot room, the dry cow and heifer facility was untouched.
    “It’s right next door,” Alan said.
    In 24-hours’ time, the majority of debris was cleaned up, and after taking a short time away from the farm for a family funeral, the Meyers had their property mostly picked up by the end of the weekend.
    As insurance continues to work through the claims, the Meyers are making plans to rebuild.
    “Alan and Sharon asked us what we wanted to do, if we wanted to keep farming or not,” Samantha said. “We really want to, especially for the lifestyle it provides our kids.”
    The freestall barn was deemed a total loss, and the Meyers do not want to take any risks with trying to operate the original robots. They traveled to World Dairy Expo, in Madison, Wis., to learn more about the latest model of robots.
    “You can’t beat the quality for the cows with the robots,” Sharon said. “They love the robots because they get handled the same way each time; they like that. It’s definitely the way to go.”
    The family has worked with their cooperative, Land O’Lakes, and area contractors to get back up and running as soon as possible.
    “We had some forward contracts with [Land O’Lakes],” Alan said. “It’s pretty hard to produce milk when you have no barn. They were very good to work with through that issue. They have gone out of their way to help us.”
    Rebuilding the freestall barn began in early October.
    “Contractors are extremely busy,” Alan said. “If we were to sign a contract today, they couldn’t get started until May 1. They bumped us up to next week. The footings are fine; we’re just building up.”
    As the Meyers adjust to their surroundings and work towards returning to a normal routine, they continue to receive support from family, friends and those they have never met before.
    “We’re getting through it day by day,” Alan said.
    Sharon agreed.
    “There are people still calling,” she said. “Wherever you go, you get a hug. It’s so humbling. Without those people, we couldn’t have gotten through this.”