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Clean Slate: Tornado rips through Rolling View Dairy

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 11 March 2015


Event: Tornado
Total property damage: More than $1 million
Injury or losses to cattle: A dozen cows lost



Location: Orange City, Iowa
Owners: Walt Sr., Walt Jr., andArt Vander Waal

As Art Vander Waal recalls, last Mother’s Day will be one his family will never forget. That was the night a tornado ripped a path of destruction through their 1,500-cow dairy in northwest Iowa.

But the Vander Waal family chose not to live in the shadow of darkness following this loss; the dawn of the new day brought hope and a shining spirit of resilience.

Around 8 p.m. on that evening, Vander Waal and his family were at their home, located just 1,000 feet away from their dairy. The weather forecast warned of a typical springtime storm with high winds and heavy rain, so he had been sure to pull down the barn doors and curtains.

milking parlor


However, when Vander Waal looked outside to see mud, dirt and cornstalks flying through the air, he realized this was not just a passing thunderstorm. The worst of it lasted for about 30 seconds, but that was all it took to wreak havoc.

“When a tornado hits, it just rips,” he recalls. “It did a lot of damage in a hurry.”

When he stepped out to assess the scene, he found only minor damage to the house. Through the dark, he could see lights on in the barns, which gave him a glimmer of hope that the dairy was unscathed. But as he got closer and took account of the debris, he began to realize the severity of the situation.

“Basically, it took our entire milking parlor, three-quarters of the first freestall barn, one-quarter of the second freestall barn and the entire loafing area,” Vander Waal says.

The tornado took portions of these buildings along with about a dozen cows. He estimates there was more than $1 million in losses to his dairy, which had been built new just three years prior.

Though humbled by the sight of his partially destroyed dairy, Vander Waal kept an unwavering faith and knew there was no time to waste.


jersey cows

“On a dairy, you can’t shut the cows off,” he says. “It’s a do-or-die situation.”

He quickly inspected the damage and came up with a plan to get the cows milked. Because his milking parlor was built with a basement for equipment, and most of the electrical lines were buried underground, he could keep things running. In fact, he barely missed a beat; Vander Waal was determined to quickly restore normalcy.

“We were down for 12 hours, but then we were able to temporarily get things to function,” Vander Waal recalls. That meant making do with a roof-less milking parlor and barns. “We were milking out in the open air, but at least we could get going.”

By the fortune of good weather and good neighbors who came in droves to help dig out from the debris, the cleanup and rebuilding process moved along quickly. By late summer, the dairy was back to normal.

In fact, if you were to stop in for a visit, you would never know that less than one year ago, the site was a mangled mess of twisted tin. But Vander Waal has not forgotten. He adds, “The pictures of it in my mind will probably never leave.”

tornado damage

What did the disastertake away that you will neverbe able to replace?

VANDER WAAL: Nothing. It would have been different if human life had been lost. Everything else is replaceable.

What improvements were you able to make by having to rebuild?

VANDER WAAL: We only made very minor changes. If we would have been here for 15 years, there would have been more things we would have wanted to change. At just three years in, we had just gotten over the hurdles of a new dairy and were at the point where we were full and it was running well. We were just trying to get back up and functioning again as soon as possible.

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

VANDER WAAL: We don’t carry insurance for religious beliefs. This has not changed. Part of our belief is that everything happens for a reason, and you don’t have control over that.

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

VANDER WAAL: You can’t hardly prepare for something like this. It is absolutely humbling.

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

VANDER WAAL: For the next week or two after the tornado, 50 to 70 people were here every day helping to pick up. Our local Westfalia dealer had guys working 24 to 30 hours straight to get things functioning again. People pitched in, in all different aspects, and that is something to be very thankful for.

What lesson did you learnfrom this experience?

VANDER WAAL: Anything can be taken away in a limited amount of time. PD

Photos courtesy of Vander Waal family.

peggy coffeen

Peggy Coffeen
Progressive Dairyman