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Clean Slate: Bieses see ‘bright future’ after blaze

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 11 June 2014
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On February 20, 2010, Marvin and Patty Biese lost their big, red barn to a blaze. But from the ashes, the family found the opportunity to rebuild their dreams – bigger and better than before.

That day, the Bieses were celebrating their 10-year wedding anniversary in Cozumel, Mexico. On one of very few multiple-day trips away from their 110-cow dairy near Wrightstown, Wisconsin, the couple was thousands of miles from home when they got the dreaded phone call telling them the old two-story barn where Marvin grew up milking cows and stacking bales was going up in flames.

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The barn, which had been retrofitted for a milking parlor just two years prior, was deemed a total loss. Fortunately, the freestall lean-to that joined it from the north side – and all of the cows in it – were saved.

Not ready to abandon his dairying dreams, Marvin opted to rebuild – a move that allowed him to plan for the future. Building on the site of the old barn limited the ability to grow due to silos, buildings and other obstructions, but a flat piece of land on the property provided the perfect site for a new double-eight milking parlor and freestall barn – built with options in mind.

Within nine months, they were moved in and milking, and today, the herd includes around 320 cows. By the end of this summer, an additional freestall barn will be up, giving them room to grow to close to 600 cows.

Patty, who used to work off the farm, has taken over roles with bookkeeping, calf care and herd health. A total of seven employees (full-time and part-time) divvy up the workload, moving Marvin into a management role in addition to getting his hands dirty with the daily work.

biese family and their farm

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This structure allows them the flexibility to keep up with the activities and sporting events of their three young children, Katie (12), Kyle (10) and Kevin (8).

As he casts a gaze over the concrete walls that will soon support his second barn, Marvin says, “We’ve got a bright future.”

What did the disaster take away that you will never be able to replace?

Marvin: The memories. As kids, we built forts in the hay mow and did a lot of things our kids don’t get to do now.

Patty: And the uniqueness of an old, two-story barn.

Name at least three improvements you have been able to make by having to rebuild.

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Marvin: Cow handling, cow flow and cow comfort. Wider, longer (10 feet long) stalls and wider alleys. In the old parlor, cows had to make several corners to get in the parlor; now, they can come straight in.

Patty: We have better ventilation in this barn, too. (14-foot sidewalls with HVLS fans)

Name one thing the disaster took away but now that it has been replaced or restored, you’re not sorry it was lost or damaged in the first place.

Marvin: The milking facility. The environment now is just so much nicer and brighter to work in every day.

What did you learn about insurance through working with your insurance company to recover your losses?

Marvin: We learned everything about insurance that day. One thing we learned about was the comprehensive coverage on the contents of what was inside the building. Our agent told us if you think it was in there or if you know it’s missing, mark it down because for everything you mark down, there will be two more things you forgot.

Patty: We spent hours in Fleet Farm going up and down the aisles because we had to write down everything that we lost. Every syringe, tools – I couldn’t believe how much all that little stuff added up to at the end. We had to come up with an itemized list to give back to the insurance company. Loss-of-income insurance was another big thing we learned about.

Marvin: Before the fire, w e looked at our policy every year, but I never understood exactly what it was. We had just switched insurance companies a year prior. Every January, we sit down and meet. We had just met with our agent and I told him, “Just so we are covered if anything ever happens – tornado, fire – I want to be able to decide if I can rebuild, not the other way around.” He had us covered.

How would you insure yourself differently now having gone through this experience?

Marvin: We did as good as we could have with the insurance. Our insurance agent had things covered well for us. We didn’t change a thing in our insurance policy.

Patty: The insurance company was very good to us. They treated us fairly. In fact, our agent was there at the fire even though we were not. He called us the day after the fire and asked us if we wanted him to come over and explain the policy.

Marvin: He stopped every couple of days. He was even here the week after during the day if he got a chance, helping us to clean up.

Is there anything you have done already or will do in the future to protect against this happening to you again?

Patty: To protect against a fire is difficult. It was electrical, and that can happen regardless. Now, we do try to keep fire extinguishers around. We make sure we have the proper insurance and the right amount. That was huge in rebuilding.

Marvin: We try to do a better job with rodent control, making sure they do not chew through wires and trying to keep things a little bit neater and cleaner.

Any advice you might have for producers who may be at risk for a similar situation?

Marvin: Don’t give up. If you enjoy what you are doing, stay with it.

Patty: When you build brand-new, don’t cut corners to save money – because you will regret it. Build it the way you want it right away. Also, we planned for the future. We built a double-eight parlor, and we will expand it to a double-10. We have room to grow.

What outside support did you receive that helped you through this situation?

Marvin: The community support was nothing short of amazing. For probably six weeks straight, I don’t think there was a day when there was not somebody here helping.

Patty: When we left for our vacation, our refrigerator was empty. When we got home, it was packed full of food. The kids’ classes at school all chipped in to give us gift cards. PD

PHOTOS
INSET TOP RIGHT: Marvin and Patty Biese and their three children, Kevin, Katie and Kyle, stand in front of the milking parlor that was built following a 2010 fire that destroyed their old dairy barn. Some of the glass blocks behind them were salvaged from the original barn. Aerial photo courtesy of Marvin and Patty Biese. Barn and family photos by Peggy Coffeen.

peggy coffeen

Peggy Coffeen
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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