Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Clean Slate: Sarbackers see chance for new beginning after barn fire

Macy Sarbacker Published on 11 September 2015

clean slate bannerEvent: Fire
Injury or losses to cattle: No animals died in the fire
Total property damage: $350,000
Insured: Yes
Total covered losses: Full coverage

On Jan. 22, 2013, in sub-zero temperatures, the Sarbacker family of Verona, Wisconsin, lost their 78-stall milking barn, calf barn and barn office to a fire. Though the heartbreaking loss of a facility that had been handed down through the family was difficult to overcome, they rose from disaster to rebuild.



John and Michelle Sarbacker’s five children represent the third generation on the farm where John’s father, Joe, started milking cows in 1961. The year prior to the blaze, they had sold off their milking herd but continued to house youngstock in the facility.

The day of the fire is one John will not forget. He recalls receiving a call from his mother, who lives on the farm, saying someone had stopped at the house to say smoke was coming from the barn. When he ran to his truck, he could already see smoke billowing from the structure.

burning barnWith quick action, Sarbacker was able to get the 10 calves out of the calf barn and salvaged some records from the office before both were engulfed in flames. Nine area fire departments responded to the emergency.

The Sarbacker family made the decision to rebuild. In October 2013, the new facility was complete with an indoor washroom, clipping space, feed storage, new office space, a conference room and the ability to house 40 head of cattle. At this time, it is primarily used to house youngstock, but the family is open to the idea of adding milking features in the coming years.

The office area and the conference room have in-floor heating. The new facility has improved ventilation due to the use of natural ventilation of curtains.


As tragic as the loss of the barn was, “Nobody got hurt and we didn’t lose any animals, so we came out better than some,” John says. “Material things are replaceable. Cattle and people are not.”

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

SARBACKER: The original building itself. As a family grows and time goes on, you can drive down the road and see the buildings and the changes that have occurred over the years. As the family got bigger, the farm and barn got bigger. We lost the ability to see that transition with our eyes.

Also, the memories the building brought. We will always have the stories, but some of the original landmarks where I mowed hay in, my kids mowed hay in and my grandparents mowed hay in are no longer there.

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

SARBACKER: An indoor washroom, better ventilation, and the overall facility is much more labor-efficient.

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.

SARBACKER: We lost the calf barn, and though it was sad to see that go, we are now able to clean and bed pens with the skid loader, as opposed to manual labor in the old facility.

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

SARBACKER: From the day the barn burnt, we heard that we would not get the insurance company to cover anything. The insurance company gave us what we needed, and we are still clients of theirs today.


new barn

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

SARBACKER: We did as good as we could have with the insurance. Our insurance agent had everything covered well for us. We haven’t changed anything in our insurance policy.

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

SARBACKER: We have fire extinguishers mounted throughout the barn, we have updated wiring, and we make it a point to continue to stay up-to-date on wiring and electrical matters.

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

SARBACKER: Take the time to update your wiring.

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

SARBACKER: We were fortunate to receive endless support from fellow dairy farmers, neighbors, our community, our church, nine area fire departments and the American Red Cross.  PD

PHOTOS: Photos provided by Macy Sarbacker.