Blizzard packs a punch for already burdened farmers

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

Amy Penterman sent out a Facebook SOS to anyone living nearby that could help them at their Thorp area farm after the roof collapsed on the barn housing their dairy cows on Feb. 24. Some would-be rescuers were unable to get out of their driveways to help at Dutch Dairy. Some tried and had to turn back as the blizzard and white-out conditions had made roads treacherous.

Despite the weather, a couple of hours later, Penterman reported they had rounded up enough help and she urged people to stay home and be safe as roads were nearly impassable. Even the township snow plow got stuck up the road from the farm.

She said no animals or people were injured in the collapse. The collapse missed a pen of 100 cows. Three had minor cuts, three were trapped but didn't have the barn on them Penterman wrote on Facebook. 

Volunteers work to scrape snow off a barn roof at Dutch Dairy in Thorp.

The Penterman's had been monitoring the roof for the past month. A week before the collapse, the roof over the holding area showed signs of stress when a couple of boards broke. They removed the snow, braced the area and had two different people check the rest of the barn, which was built in 2000. 

The Friday before the storm, they removed snow from problem areas that tended to collect snow. They thought they would be okay, Penterman said in an email. 

But freezing rain piled with 3-4 feet of heavy snow settled on the side of the barn where the roof collapsed. Following the collapse, further inspection revealed that multiple posts showed signs of stress.

A Holstien looks at the aftermath of a roof collapse at Dutch Dairy in Thorp on Feb. 24.

"It's quite a miracle that more of the barn didn't fall down," said Penterman. "We easily could of had half our barn go down. We removed the snow yesterday (Feb. 25) and are breathing a sigh of relief for now."

Within minutes of the collapse, Penterman said they had community members helping remove debris and getting the barn back into somewhat of a working order.

"We are overwhelmed with the support of the community," Penterman added.  

The Silver Dollar restaurant up the road from the farm had been closed that day due to the weather and opened up "just to cook for all the volunteers that were here and a provide place for them to warm up," Penterman explained. "All free of charge. Farm communities are the best."

While they waited for their insurance adjuster, their contractor, RZ Builders, "was here right away and is working with us to get this fixed as soon as we can."

Despite blizzard conditions, volunteers arrived to help Amy and Sander Penterman at their Dutch Dairy farm after snow collapsed a roof over their cows on Feb. 24.

The contractor is getting bombarded with calls.

"There are many stressed freestall barns," explained Penterman. "Everyone is out removing as much snow as possible." 

Several people in the Thorp area had roofs collapse, Penterman added. Many of the collapses were much worse than what Dutch Dairy experienced. 

Taylor County Emergency Management helped one farmer relocate about 230 head of cattle on Feb. 24 and were helping another farmer relocate 300 head of cattle after a partial barn collapse, according to a Facebook post. The herd got split up with 200 being moved to various farms. 

Related:Barn roof snow: Do's and don'ts of removing it safely

Brian Holmes, a retired University of Wisconsin-Extension agricultural engineer told Wisconsin Public Radio that farm buildings are more likely to be damaged by snow on roofs because they are exempt from state building codes. Additionally, farm buildings tend to be older. The moist environment caused by livestock also compromises the strength of the structures.

At Blue Ox Farm in Wheeler, pastured livestock didn't seem phased by the weather, but a high tunnel collapsed under the weight of snow. No livestock were in the structure when it collapsed, Lauren Langworthy reported but they, along with many Wisconsin farmers, are crying "Uncle" to winter weather.

A high tunnel at Blue Ox Farm in Wheeler collapsed under the weight of snow from February snowstorms.

Langworthy, like many farmers in the state, have spent a "lot of time managing snow this winter," she said, clearing paths, scraping snow off roofs, but now their high tunnel will sit until the spring thaw. 

Western Wisconsin was especially hit hard with the storm. Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Jim Holte said the weekend weather "didn’t help our already burdened farmers," comparing the February storm to the spring blizzard in 2018 that took down farm buildings.

"As farmers were already handling the severe wind and snow, building collapses added even more stress and hardship," said Holte in a press release. 

Rural Mutual Insurance is setting up and assigning claims to adjusters as they are submitted by insured farmers, according to Holte. "Rural Mutual adjusters will be in touch within 24 hours of a farmer submitting a claim and will set up a time to come view the damage. Farmers are encouraged to submit claims as soon as possible and to be specific about the location and extent of the damage." 

"On behalf of Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Rural Mutual Insurance Company, I ask you keep our farmers in your thoughts and prayers as they dig out and continue caring for their families, farms and livestock to the best of their ability,” Holte said.

Farmers with questions about whether a loss is covered or how to deal with injured livestock, should contact their agent for further guidance.

Penterman hopes "the more people see the effects of snow, hopefully it will trigger them to keep the roofs clear on their own property."

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at