A fire of undetermined origin on the morning of Friday, Jan. 4, resulted in "a huge loss for our breeding program," according to an online posting by the family which owns Select Genetics LLC. "The beauty turned into the beast."
Area fire departments received a call at about 4:45 a.m. for a blaze in a barn housing nearly 200 dairy heifers and calves and a few cows, official reports noted.
Early indications were that the fire had broken out an hour or more earlier in the barn at 10525 West Viebahn Road in Manitowoc County's town of Liberty.
Select Genetics LLC is owned by the Bert and Annette de Bruijn, who moved to Manitowoc County from Rockford, OH, during 2009 in order to be able to consolidate their elite Holstein genetics breeding program at one site.
"Your world is turned upside down" as the result of the Jan. 4 fire, Bert de Bruijn told the Wisconsin State Farmer. He said Select Genetics had been planning an international sale for later this year.
The fire occurred in a barn - mainly of concrete and steel and in which sand bedding is used - built only three years ago, de Bruijn pointed out.
He said investigators had determined the fire was not caused by any electrical malfunction and that a heating element might be a possibility. "It's a mystery," he observed.
Initial reports stated that about 120 head of dairy cattle, most of them heifers and calves, had been lost.
De Bruijn said 19 animals had died in the fire itself, 78 were euthanized as a result of smoke inhalation or serious injuries when part of the roof fell, and 80 more head were saved but the survival of four of them was still uncertain as of Monday evening of this week.
A few more cattle might still be discovered once the debris is removed, de Bruijn added.
He noted that a dog that was in the barn at the time of the fire died of smoke inhalation two days later. None of the surviving cattle have been moved off the site, which has three other buildings for housing cattle.
Select Genetics LLC has a base milking herd of 150 registered Holstein cows plus another 100 recipient cows that are part of an extensive embryo transfer program. Among the many top genetics in the herd are offspring of the Holstein sire Goldwyn.
The online posting by the de Bruijn children described the lost animals as including "a big group of our very interesting heifers and calves."
The carcasses went to a Manitowoc County firm, which is in the business of picking up and processing dead cattle.
When firefighters from the Valders, Silver Lake, Newton, and Whitelaw departments arrived, they were reluctant to enter the structure in an effort to save more of the cattle because of uncertainties about the stability of the building, according to Valders fire chief Dan Esser.
He was grateful that no firefighters were injured at the site, where strong winds and an ice buildup in temperatures well below freezing hampered the firefighting and cattle rescue efforts.
The de Bruijn family has thanked the responders and their neighbors and friends for their help and concern during and after the fire. "That helps us gain strength," de Bruijn remarked.