The Day that Went Awry

Things that go bump in the night

Sutliffs experience a basement visitor


BOYCEVILLE, Wis. — After an early morning and a busy day partaking in Wisconsin’s traditional opening day of gun deer season, Kyle and Casey Sutliff and their family headed to bed early to get a good night’s sleep.

Or so they thought. 

Just before 10 p.m., the Sutliffs heard the all-too-familiar sound of cows meandering outside the house. 

“Kyle heard the cows and was going to grab the spotlight to see what they were up to, and we heard a huge crash in the basement that woke everyone up,” Casey said. “We were trying to figure out what that noise was.”

Casey ran to the basement and saw a sight she could not have conjured up in her wildest dreams.

She came face-to-face with Sweetheart, an 800-pound Guernsey-Holstein crossbred heifer who had fallen through a basement egress window into a downstairs bedroom shared by two of their children.

The Sutliffs and their children — Borden, Barrett, Boston, Cullen, Eldon, Lucy and Kynlee — operate Taste & See Creamery LLC, a first-generation micro-dairy the couple established about two years ago in Boyceville. They milk nine cows and make a variety of cheeses and cheese curds on the farm, which they market at local farmers markets and retailers and through online sales.

Sweetheart found herself in the bedroom of 12-year-old Borden and 8-year-old Barrett, who could hardly believe their eyes. 

“When I got down there, she was still sitting in the window well,” Casey said. “We were hoping we could just lift her up from there, but she got scared when the skid loader came, and in she came.”

Despite the initial humor in the situation, the Sutliffs feared what the heifer’s reaction might be after getting over her own initial shock.

“Our 8-year-old was in the bottom bunk,” Casey said. “When I got there, (Sweetheart) was right there next to him. There was no way to process it. I kept telling him to get up or the cow was going to be in bed with him, and he was like he couldn’t begin to understand what I was telling him because it’s not something Mom tells you every day.”

Kyle said he wished for a video of Barrett’s reaction.

“He was just lying there looking at her, trying to figure out if he was dreaming or what,” Kyle said.

Once Barrett was out of the way of any potential harm and Kyle had the rest of the cows put back in, the Sutliffs set about figuring out how they were going to extract Sweetheart from their basement.

“I knew it wouldn’t work, but I first tried walking her out up the stairs,” Kyle said. “Then I started to brainstorm, and I got hung up on building a sled and hauling her up the stairs on a sled.”

Meanwhile, Casey began calling for reinforcements in the form of Kyle’s friend and her uncle.

“I called Kyle’s buddy and said, ‘Hey, I got a cow in the basement. Can you come help get her out?’ He didn’t think he heard me right,” Casey said. “My uncle said the same thing.”

With an assembled army of five men, the work of freeing Sweetheart from the basement began in earnest. Kyle’s plan to build a sled was modified to screwing plywood onto the stairs to create a make-shift ramp. They removed a window near the top of the stairs. Using a combination of straps and chain, they got Sweetheart onto her side and began the process of pulling her up the ramp by using the skid loader.

The stairwell to the basement is 4 feet wide, which made the job infinitely trickier.

“We got her started up, and then her leg got caught and we had to lower her back down,” Kyle said. “She kicked the wall pretty good and knocked that loose, and it will all need to be rebuilt and replaced. The two guys at the bottom trying to guide her up were holding on for dear life.”

Once she was hoisted to the top of the stairs, Sweetheart’s perils were not yet over.

“The landing isn’t very big, so she was kind of just hanging there, and we had to get her unhooked from the skid loader,” Casey said.

Without enough room for her to lunge to get up, the rescuers needed to keep Sweetheart convinced to stay down while they manually pulled her toward the door.

“We got her out to the door, and she popped up and ran down the couple of steps from the house,” Kyle said. “I had always thought cows couldn’t go down stairs. But from there, there wasn’t any more playing. She went right to the barn. She was done.”

For the calamity of her experience, Sweetheart is no worse off.

“She seemed just fine,” Kyle said. “I was really worried about pneumonia because she was really hot here in the house, but it’s been a week and a half, and she’s doing well.”

While Sweetheart escaped without physical trauma, she left the Sutliffs quite the mess to clean up, but they admit it could have been much worse.

“We cleaned up what we could that night, but then it was a couple of more days of just scrubbing and scrubbing,” Casey said. “The dresser is gone. She ended up standing right on top of it and just crashed it. But at one point, she was standing next to like 300 jars of canned pickles and stuff. I was just holding my breath she wouldn’t knock those down.”

While Casey handled the cleaning, Kyle is in charge of fixing the structural damage caused by Sweetheart’s escapades.

“The new window is supposed to be here tomorrow (Nov. 30),” Kyle said. “Once I get that in, I’ll need to take the staircase wall down and replace that.”

In the end, the scenario has become one the Sutliffs said they can laugh about.

“We really couldn’t have asked for an animal with a better temperament to deal with,” Kyle said. “She stayed pretty calm and easy to work with. Now we have quite the deer hunting story to tell: ‘Remember the year the cow fell in the basement?’”


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