Restoring their dreams

Cox family rebuilds dairy goat facility after barn fire

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THORP, Wis. — June 13, 2021, had been a normal day for the Cox family, who were doing chores on their dairy goat farm near Thorp. 

Dave Cox had just bedded doe pens, and his wife, Shelby, was still in the pens with the goats. Suddenly, the barn fans quit running and all the goats spooked to the other side of the barn. When Shelby noticed the goats looking up at the ceiling, she looked too and discovered smoke coming from the ceiling of the barn.

Shelby quickly moved the does and bucks out of the barn while Dave struggled to get the yearlings out of harm’s way. Within two minutes, the entire barn was engulfed in flames. Even though they were not directly in the flames, Dave and the does were all on fire by the time they were able to run out of the barn.

“It’s something you never want to see,” Shelby said. “It’ll scar you for the rest of your life.”

Dave suffered third-degree burns on his back and arms, and the Coxes lost 47 goats that day.

With the help of nearby family and community members, the surviving goats were relocated. Dave spent a month and a half in the hospital, but the barn was rebuilt, and the Coxes were milking again four months after the fire.

Today, the family milks 120 goats in a 15-stall parlor three times a day. Their herd consists of Saanens, Alpines and LaMancha crossbreds.

They were able to rebuild on the existing concrete and also add 100 feet to their barn. The new facility measures about 60 feet by 180 feet. All the does, bucks and kids are housed under one roof.

Before the fire, the Coxes were milking in a barn they had built in 2015. Although it had been sufficient, there were things that they upgraded when building new. Installing trusses from Starwood Rafters opened up space and allowed them to include a big fan in the new barn. They also added curtains on the sides of the barn, which allows more air flow and natural light. 

“We really like the open concept,” Shelby said. “Our does are always comfortable even when it’s 90 and humid, and it’s so nice and bright and fresh.”

An organized utility room was added to the new facility as well. Vet supplies are kept on inventory, so when there is a sick animal, it can be taken care of easily and accurately. Shelby said it makes things easier when there are problems during inconvenient times. 

Doing chores three times a day is important to the family for many reasons. Dave works off the farm at Thorp Equipment, and the couple has seven children, so it is important to them to balance the farm with their family. 

Milking times are 4:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Dave milks in the morning while Shelby gets the children to school. The noon milking is done before they return from school, and the night milking is done after the children go to bed.

“I have that quality time with the kids after they get home,” Shelby said. “I feel like it benefits the does’ udder health, and we are able to catch things sooner because we are out there more.”

The goats are milked on extended lactations with the does averaging 500 days in milk. There are 19 does milking over 1,000 days, two of which are over 2,000 days in their lactation. The Coxes believe that if a goat is milking at least 15 pounds per day, there is no reason to interrupt the lactation with a pregnancy and fresh period, which has potential for complications. Does are bred back when they drop below 10 pounds of milk per day. They have not had any reproductive problems with the extended lactations so far. 

This management is aided with the use of Dairy Herd Improvement Association records and an ultrasound tool. If a doe’s DHIA record indicates low production, it receives an ultrasound to confirm a pregnancy. There have been several instances of false pregnancies where the doe drops in milk but an ultrasound reveals fluid and no pregnancy. 

When this happens, the doe is given a round of hormone shots and she resumes milk production again. 

“The ultrasound costs about $900, and it has really paid for itself,” Shelby said. “We’re not drying up does that are open, and we’re not shipping because of that false pregnancy.”

Goats are freshened seasonally to avoid winter kidding. Kids are raised on Vita Plus milk replacer, which Shelby said has eliminated bloating problems they were previously experiencing. Kids are fed with a group feeder and receive three feedings per day, in congruence with milking times. 

Does are fed baleage in the manger and pellets in the parlor. They are hand fed in the parlor now, but the Coxes hope to upgrade to an automatic parlor feeder to improve efficiency. They plan to expand their parlor to a double-20 as well.

Shelby said that the barn fire opened their eyes to how many great people in their community cared about their family. They made new friends and started attending a church. Once the physical structures were rebuilt, however, Shelby said her mental well-being had to become a priority.

“Once things slowed down and all the chaos of rebuilding was over with, that’s when the PTSD really sank in,” Shelby said. “It would just replay over and over in my head again. If you go through something traumatic, try and get help right away; I did. Don’t put it off.”

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