The Day that Went Awry

Greeting the year with a blizzard, no water

Dec. 31, 2010, a holiday to remember for the Meyers

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SAUK CENTRE, Minn. — Balancing holiday plans with dairy farming can be a challenge, but when something goes awry on the farm, life quickly goes from hectic to crazy.

Nick and Tara Meyer experienced this first hand on their farm, Meyer Dairy, near Sauk Centre where they milk 300 cows.

It was New Year’s Eve 2010 and the Meyers were looking forward to having family and friends over to ring in the new year.

However, as soon as they got up to do chores that morning at 4, they realized that was not going to happen. The house, barn and none of the youngstock at Meyer Dairy had water. 

“(The water) couldn’t have been out for too long when we got out there because the cows were calm and acted normal,” Nick said. “Our well is a half mile out in the field, and we had to dig a trench through a foot of snow for the well guy.”

Nick called the well company right away to assess the situation — a situation the Meyers had been through not once but twice before and always during the summer.

“All three breaks happened within five years of each other and were within 100 feet of each other,” Nick said. “So, there was a section of pipe that was bad.”

Not only was it the middle of winter this time, but it was a holiday weekend and the weather forecast was predicting a blizzard for later that day.

After morning chores, the well company showed up. With a half mile of water line in the frozen ground under a foot of snow, the well company decided to dig up the water pump itself, clean it out and see if that would solve the problem.

When the efforts did not bring back the water, the Meyers canceled their holiday plans. They then spent the next several hours brainstorming ways to bring water to their farm.

“We needed to figure how to get water brought in because we knew we couldn’t go overnight without water,” Tara said. “Who could we get water from and how? That was a four- or five-hour ordeal just trying to figure that out.”

Finally, it was the well driller who suggested a custom pumping business from New Munich. The owner agreed to help and found a farmer near New Munich who had an irrigation well. A semi tanker would be able to get close enough to get water to fill the 8,000-gallon semi tank. However, by this time, the blizzard had arrived, quickly deteriorating road conditions and making every task more challenging.

With daylight quickly fading and a blizzard raging, the Meyers at least knew they had a plan to get water as Tara started evening milking. By this time, the cows had gone a full 12 hours without water.

“I looked out in the freestall barn and the cows were just going in circles and bellowing and in the parlor,” Tara said. “They were fighting. It was awful; I was in tears.”

Nick and his dad, Jerry, took turns replowing the path from the barn to the well in the middle of the field through the snow. At one point, the front tire of the tractor Jerry was using got stuck in mud.

The water line had in fact broken, and the water that had leaked out slowly thawed the ground.

“We just hoped that the water leak was straight down and we didn’t have to dig up 50 or 60 feet of water line,” Nick said.

Evening chores were finished around 9 p.m., and the Meyers received confirmation that the semi tanker was loaded and on its way. Nearby freeways and interstates were closing down, and with no travel advised, the Meyers remained on edge about the semi getting to their farm. 

“The weather was so bad by that time,” Nick said. “It took way longer than normal to get here. They had a pickup truck in front of the semi, leading the way to help guide him to stay on the road.”

The well on Meyer Dairy goes directly into a 3,000-gallon holding tank in a heated storage room next to the parlor. From there, the water is distributed to the house and various barns on the farm.

“We didn’t know if the semi tanker would fit in our holding room with the water tank in,” Tara said. “If not, then it would have had to sit outside and then it would just freeze.”

The tanker arrived at 10:30 p.m. and thankfully fit inside the storage room once it was unhooked from the semi. Nick quickly started pumping the water from the tanker to the holding tank. As soon as the tank was full, Nick and Tara walked through the barns to make sure the animals got water.

After making sure the tank would have enough water to get the animals through the night, the Meyers went to bed, knowing they did all that they could do.

The next morning, New Year’s Day, Nick refilled their holding tank from the semi tank one more time before they started morning chores.

The Meyers had to call an excavator to dig up the water line. The power company and the well company came to put a splice in the line. The power company needed to turn off the power because there was a power line buried next to the water line.

“We had to call them all up and have them come out on New Year’s Day right after a blizzard,” Nick said. “It was quite the ordeal.”

Once everyone showed up, they all made quick work and were able to find the hole since Jerry marked it the night before. The well company put a splice in the water line and turned the well back on.

“Just like that, everything went back to normal,” Nick said.

That summer, the Meyers had the entire water line replaced.

“It’s one of those things you take for granted, having water every time you turn the facet on,” Nick said. “Thankfully, we have contractors who were able to drop what they were doing and come help us during a blizzard on New Year’s Eve nonetheless.”

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