The Browns’ 32-cow tiestall barn is built for efficiency and ease of labor on their farm near Strum, Wisconsin.
The Browns’ 32-cow tiestall barn is built for efficiency and ease of labor on their farm near Strum, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    STRUM, Wis. – Trish Brown saw something no dairy farmer ever wants to see: smoke rolling from the dairy barn the afternoon of Jan. 14, 2019.
    Despite losing the farm’s animals to the fire and seeing the dairy barn turn to ash, Brown said she could not imagine doing anything else and chose to rebuild her barn and her dairy herd.
    Brown and her husband, Judson, milk 32 cows on their farm in Strum along with their children, Coltan, 5, and Eastan, 3. Judson helps with mixing feed, cleaning and crops but also works full time off the farm, while Brown takes care of managing the cows.
    In the days following the fire, which resulted from an electrical problem in the milkhouse, the Browns made the difficult decision to send every animal that survived the fire to market because of lung damage caused by smoke inhalation.
    “It was really hard, because we had raised all of those cows from calves,” Brown said. “There was a connection to them. Right now, we don’t have that with the new herd of cows. We need to build that back.”    
    The farm consists of 205 acres, and the Browns rent another 80 acres on which they primarily raise their own feed along with some soybean production.
    Brown began her dairy career in 2012, milking 50 head on the farm her father-in-law purchased in 2005. While she did not grow up on a dairy farm, she worked on some dairy farms when she was younger and decided that was where her interest in life was.
    Milking 50 cows required Brown to hire additional labor. So, when she began making plans for rebuilding, Brown chose to downsize and build the new barn with 32 tie stalls. This allowed milking and chores to be manageable for Brown while also caring for her children.
    “At the end of the day, I have two boys,” Brown said. “I built smaller to get away from needing help and to give me more time to spend with my boys.”
    Despite some construction and weather-related delays, the rebuilding process went quickly. Brown had the new herd of cows in the facility on May 24, 2019.
    “I had found a herd from New York that we bought, and they needed to be out here by June 1,” Brown said. “We poured walls on April 26, and in less than a month, the barn was ready enough to bring them home. The construction crew that worked on it was great.”
    The herd the Browns purchased had a rolling herd average over 31,000 pounds of milk. The herd dropped production through the transition period. Brown said she is working to rebuild that average and is currently averaging 80 pounds of milk per cow per day.
    The new barn sits in the same spot as the old barn, and Brown was able to salvage and re-use the tie stalls from the previous barn. At 100 feet, the new barn is about 20 feet shorter than the old one. A larger milkhouse and an office area are features of the new barn Brown did not have in the old facility.
    “There wasn’t much in the old barn I really would have wanted to change,” Brown said. “The office area is something I love. It gives me a place for the boys to be while I’m doing chores.”
    Brown had a track system installed in the barn for moving the milking units around, and she uses the same style of one-touch units as what she previously used.
    “I get a lot of comments on the two box stalls I designed,” Brown said. “And I built a lean-to onto the side to house some heifers and dry cows, plus we added overhead doors for easy access to the barn for pallets.”
    Brown used the fresh start to begin chasing goals she had previously set for the farm.
    “We had been slowly working toward building a registered herd,” Brown said. “So, we bought a herd of registered cows to rebuild with.”
    In addition to the herd she purchased, Brown has been making key purchases of animals from popular pedigrees to add to her breeding program.
    One purchase before the fire was that of Sellcrest D Cheeto-Red EX-91, who Brown houses at Rosedale Boarding in Paradise in Oxford. Brown had considered bringing Cheeto home from Rosedale during her dry period but opted to leave her at Rosedale, a move she considers lucky.
    “If I had brought Cheeto home, she would have been in the barn (during the fire), and I would have lost her,” Brown said.
    Brown has been flushing Cheeto and in five years hopes to have a barn full of her offspring.
    “I want to get our name out there and be known for quality cattle,” Brown said.
    Brown bases her breeding philosophy around cows that breed back easily and last for a long time. She places emphasis on selecting for udders and good feet and legs with an eye toward show-type cows.
    “I would rather have my cows be called immature in their first and second lactations, and be called youthful as old cows,” Brown said.
    Bulls that are included in the mating program include Lirr Drew Dempsey, Siemers Doc Hancock, Woodcrest King Doc, Regancrest-GV S Bradnick and Sonnek GC Corvette.
    Being a first-generation dairy farmer, Brown said she learns something new about her chosen profession every day.
    “I look to anybody for advice,” Brown said. “I can pool it all together and take the pieces that work for me. I have been fortunate to find some great mentors and friends along the way, sometimes in unexpected places.”
    Brown said her favorite word to hear is, “No.”
    “Tell me no, and that will just make me work harder,” she said. “I like challenges.”
    Embracing a challenge and thoughts of the future are what kept Brown motivated to continue to chase her dreams and work to conquer her goals.
    “We are doing this for our boys, for them to have something good and solid in the future, if they choose,” Brown said. “To me, that is the most important thing.”