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Clean Slate: Green Meadow Dairy recovers from maternity barn fire

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 11 June 2015

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Event: Fire
Injury or losses to cattle: 17 newborn calves; 1 cow
Insured: Yes
Total covered losses: Full coverage

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Just a few months ago, tragedy struck Green Meadow Dairy of Elsie, Michigan. But the flames that claimed their maternity barn and some of the animals in it could not char the Green family’s resilience.

It was after midnight on a frigid, below-zero evening that Craig and Darcy Green got a phone call telling them the maternity barn was on fire at the 3,000-cow registered Holstein dairy they operate with Craig’s father, Velmar.

A blaze had started in the facility that included a bedded pack for 15 to 20 cows and 16 box stalls for calving, along with a pen holding a day’s worth of newborn calves. Though the maternity pen worker nearly extinguished the fire – which was suspected to have been caused by an electrical malfunction – a spark caught the curtain and took off from there.

Upon getting the call, Craig rushed to the scene. The local fire department arrived promptly, calling in backup from six other area crews. Soon, the yard was filled with neighbors, passers-by and farm employees who came in on their time off to lend a helping hand.

The Greens were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. With heartfelt thanks, Darcy says, “It’s amazing how it can be in the middle of the night and enough people are concerned that they took it upon themselves to show up and help out.”

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Green meadow farms sign

Darcy, who stayed back at home that night to care for their sick young baby, didn’t see the damage until the next day.

“It was surreal,” she recalls. “From the outside, it didn’t look that bad, but inside, it was charred. The tin was rippled, the rafters were black, and the posts were charred.”

Though they were able to get all of the cows and calves out of the barn and contain the fire before it spread to the rest of the facility, the smoke had taken a toll on the livestock. That was the most difficult part for Darcy.

“We got all of the cows out but had to put one down the next day, and we lost 17 babies that we had to euthanize because they were in such rough shape from smoke inhalation,” she says.

The immediate option for the Greens was to patch up the structure as best they could to get by. Cows still needed a place to calve, and newborn babies still needed to be protected from the cold Michigan winter, so they temporarily fixed a portion of the remaining barn.

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“The shop crew came in the next day on their day off and ordered everything up and made it good to go so we could use the barn again,” Darcy says.

The Green family has been focused on rebuilding and recovering. Over the past few months, permanent updates like new vacuum lines and rafters were added to bring the maternity barn back up to full function. Going forward, they have a renewed sense of the importance for emergency planning.

“On a farm this size, something is going to happen at some point in time,” Darcy adds. “You just need to be prepared for when it does.”

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

We can’t get those calves back, but everything else was superficial enough that we will be OK. It was awful to lose babies before they ever even had a chance.

What did you learn about insurance through workingwith your insurance companyto recover your losses?

We are thankful we had insurance. The cattle and the barn itself were all covered. It wasn’t that bad of a process. The fire happened on a Saturday night, and the adjuster was here Monday morning.

It was easy enough to work with the insurance company to get things moving. We’ve had the same insurance company for a long time. Every year, all cattle are evaluated for market prices to set the insurance level. As for the building, it was as easy as calling up the original builder and pricing out new rafters. We got the proposal, turned it in, and there was no haggling about it.

new barn

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.

We wish it never would have happened in the first place, but the barn can be rebuilt. There was nothing in there we couldn’t replace.

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

Overall, we are very close with our fire department. They have a layout of our farm with all the electrical shutoffs and water sources, and they know from this map where any of the chemicals for the parlor are located. The pen numbers are marked on the map as well. Our cell and home phone numbers are also on that map in case they need to reach us.

Every few years, we update it and go over it with them. We will have them come out for pizza and walk through the barns. In this situation, it was easy for them to find where the fire was located on the dairy, and I would suggest to others to do that.

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

No, it has been good.

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

I don’t know what you would do differently. There was a fire extinguisher available. In fact, our worker had the fire almost completely out with it, but then it caught a curtain and just took off.

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

We had amazing support. Our local volunteer fire department got there right away and did a great job. Our farm employees were great, too. Not as many were there at night, but word spreads, and it wasn’t long before a lot of the guys who work on the dairy came in.

Our neighbors were great, too. Several stopped if they were passing by or had heard about it. Craig called the vet immediately, and he called for backup, so we had three vets on scene to care for the cows and calves. I can’t say enough good things about all the people involved; they made it a lot easier. PD

PHOTOS
The Green family has been focused on rebuilding and recovering. Over the past few months, permanent updates like new vacuum lines and rafters were added to bring the maternity barn back up to full function. Photos courtesy of Green Meadow Dairy.

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