Goats are milked in the Cox family’s single-14 parlor before it was burned in a fire. The family hopes to replace it with a double-16 or double-20 parlor in the new barn.
PHOTO SUBMITTED
Goats are milked in the Cox family’s single-14 parlor before it was burned in a fire. The family hopes to replace it with a double-16 or double-20 parlor in the new barn. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    THORP, Wis. – June 13 started out as a great day for the Cox family who enjoyed a pleasant Sunday at home on their Taylor County dairy goat farm. Then everything went up in smoke as the barn housing their herd of goats caught fire.
    David and Shelby Cox operate Almost Forever Dairy near Thorp with their children, Samantha, 13, Elliot, 11, Lucas, 10, James, 8, Imogene, 4, and Warren, 1.
    Before the fire, they were milking 105 goats and raising the youngstock. The herd consists of registered and recorded grade Alpines, Saanens and Lamanchas. The family puts a focus on animal health and top production with several animals landing on the lists for the top 10 lactation records in the nation in 2019.
    “We milk and feed three times a day,” Shelby said. “Not only did it increase production, it is a great tool for staying on top of animal health. We see them and work with each animal on shorter intervals throughout the day. If something is off, I think we catch it faster and can get ahead of the problem before it really starts.”
    Before the fire, the Coxes enjoyed an active market for their genetics. They hope to be in a position to start selling breeding stock again by next spring. In addition to their focus on production, they follow strict health protocols and disease testing. The herd is tested negative for Johne’s disease, Caprine arthritis encephalitis and caseous lymphadenitis.  
    The couple began their foray in the dairy goat industry 10 years ago. Shelby grew up with goats as a 4-H project, and David milked a herd of cows in a rented facility near Cadott.
    “When the lease ran out on that farm, it seemed like time to change directions,” David said. “Shelby had always wanted to milk goats. It has turned out to be a great venture for our family.”
    In the fire, the Coxes lost 44 goats, primarily youngstock. But the greatest loss came in the severe burns David received trying to save those animals – third-degree burns over 30% of his body.
    “He was only about 10 or 15 feet inside the barn trying to open gates to get the goats out, but the heat and flames were so great,” Shelby said. “When he got out, he kept working to get the babies out of the barn and then he moved the tractor because no one else could get it started. When the paramedicas got there, they finally made him stop.”
    David was taken by flight to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he spent a month and a half as a patient in the burn unit to recover from his injuries and undergo several surgeries. Once David was stabilized and on his way to recovery, Shelby gave him the option of rebuilding or closing the chapter on their dairy.
    “I told him that he was the one who had suffered the brunt of it, and that I would understand if he decided he didn’t want to rebuild,” Shelby said.
    David saw no reason for not moving forward.
    “I told her I thought we should rebuild,” David said. “Things had been going really well. Our goats were doing really well, producing great. And, we were developing genetics that other people were interested in. It wasn’t like we were struggling and could take it as a sign we should just hang it up.”
    As the process to rebuild got underway while David was a patient at Regions Hospital, the family’s load was lightened by a bevy of neighbors who pitched in to help organize and oversee the project.
    “We had talked to a couple of contractors, and the timeline was not looking good,” Shelby said. “Then one day a neighbor we didn’t really know well showed up and offered to oversee the project. God knew what we needed, and (God) provided for us.”
    Two neighbors have been heading up the project to organize supplies, equipment and workers which has allowed the Coxes to focus on David’s recovery. Since the fire, the milking herd has been housed and milked at Shelby’s cousin’s farm near Cadott. The Coxes are hopeful to have their milking herd home by the end of September.
    Fast progress in rebuilding was aided by the fact that all of the concrete in the barn remained intact and in good condition. The Coxes plan to upgrade their single-14 parlor to a double-16 or double-20. Eventually, they want to expand to around 150 goats.
    The Coxes had invested in goats from top herds around the country as well as from Canada. While they lost several of their up-and-coming young goats, they have been able to look to the herds they have purchased from to replace those animals with genetics of equal or better quality. They also lost their semen tank which was full of semen collected from their own bucks as well as semen from top bucks around the U.S. and Canada.
    “One young doe we lost was due the day after the fire,” Shelby said. “I had been looking so forward to her joining the milking string. She was so badly injured. Our veterinarian had to put her down right away, but he was able to deliver a healthy little girl by C-section.”
    The vet attempted cesarean sections on several other springing does that were lost, but the one kid was the only survivor.
     “The fire has been a huge blow to us on both a personal and business level,” David said. “We lost so much, but we still have so much. We just need to be thankful what we have and take the opportunities we have been given and work to rebuild bigger and better.”