Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories detailing the experiences the dairy farmers involved on the panel. Look for a story about the Kroepliens in our first April issue.
    MADISON, Wis. – Although a portion of a farm’s budget is dedicated to insurance, most of them never hope to need it.
    During the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Virtual Business Conference March 18-19 in Madison, Jim Kroeplien and his daughter, Rachel, along with Marty Hallock, explained how they survived disaster and provided tips on what to do when the unexpected happens during a panel titled “Stuff happens ... are you covered?” Dave Becker, founder of Dairy Business Consulting Group, facilitated the panel.
    For Marty Hallock, disaster was caused by an abundance of snow. In the early morning of Feb. 24, 2019, a portion of his freestall barn collapsed when the snow load became too much for the roof to bear.
    “We had over 16 inches of snow with a 30 to 40 mph wind,” Hallock said. “Our barn orientation is north/south, so it blew everything on the west side over to the east side, and we ended up with over 60 inches of snow on the roof.”
    Hallock owns and operates Mar-Bec Dairy in Mondovi with his wife, Becky, and sons, Jonathon and Josh. The Hallocks milk 925 cows, raise 1,000 heifers and crop 1,850 acres.
    A shift change had just occurred at 4 a.m., and Hallock’s first concern was tracking down his people.
    “In our business, we can replace cows even though it hurts,” Hallock said. “But we can’t replace people. Our No. 1 job was to take care of our people.”
    From his son to employees who had been with him for over 27 years, Hallock was able to account for everyone.
    “I am still thankful nobody got hurt,” he said. “When everything is at its worst, we had to remember that nobody died here.”
    After making sure everyone was safe, the next priority was to take care of cows. Two cows were trapped but were removed successfully, and cows were moved out of unstable areas of the barn.
    “We were overcrowding by 110%-120%,” Hallock said. “Out of necessity, we took pens up to 160%-180% capacity. Cows were crowded, but they still had time to lay down and time to eat. It wasn’t prime for production, but we had to be safe with our people.”
    The second part of Hallock’s barn went down two hours after the first. As the day went on, more of the barn fell. The weather was frigid, and the temperature in the barn that first night was 18 degrees below zero.
    “This meant we needed teat dip that doesn’t freeze, and we needed it that day on a Sunday,” Hallock said.
    Hallock also took copious notes, recording everything from how many gallons of diesel fuel he used in his heaters to keep the parlor from freezing to the number of skidsteer hours and time spent cleaning up. Snow removal took three days using a backhoe and telehandler.
    “The snow twisted and bent everything,” Hallock said. “There was nothing where the snow landed that was worth saving.”
    Hallock called contractors and his banker the day of the collapse.
    “Contacting our bank and contractors ASAP was crucial in getting our barn done fast,” Hallock said. “By May 28, – three months later – we were back in this barn.”  
    A week after the initial collapse, the Hallocks lost a heifer facility as well along with two heifers.
    Like the Kroepliens, Hallock found his insurance agent much easier to deal with than his insurance adjuster. However, he had fewer problems overall with insurance than Kroeplien.
    “On the actual construction of the barn, I didn’t have much of a problem with our insurance company,” Hallock said. “They were good to work with.”
    Milk production took a hit from the barn collapse. Every fresh cow was under trauma for three months. The group of cows that freshened during that timeframe peaked at 9 pounds less than the previous year.
    “It was terrible,” Hallock said. “And I paid for it. I had over 400 cows freshen during that period. Insurance only covers from the day of the incident to 30 days after. We tried extending it to six months, but no insurance company makes a policy that will carry six months after the fact. Look at the fine print on your policy. Insurance agents always say you’ll be fine and not to worry but digging into the details is key.”
    In retrospect, Hallock said he probably would have chosen to sell the cows located in the pens where the roof went down.
    “It would’ve hurt, but at least we would’ve had coverage on those lost cows and their income,” Hallock said. “I also wouldn’t have overcrowded the rest of the barn, and I think we could’ve flowed through it a little better. You can’t overcrowd facilities and overwork your people and get optimum results.”
    Farmers should make sure they are adequately covered before confronting a crisis which may involve planning for the worst.
    “Ask your insurance agent and adjuster exactly what’s going to be covered,” Hallock said. “For example, if we’re going to have to dump milk down the drain because of the coronavirus, is that covered? Not on my policy. I have to have a loss first, like a fire or wind incident or a barn collapse.”