When the September 2018 tornadoes swept through western Kenyon, Andy and Samantha Meyer were left without a barn to house their 120 cows.
About a hundred days after the tornadoes, their operation, Richland Dairy, was back in business. Now, nearly 10 months later, the herd is up to about 135 cows, and production is even higher than before the storms.
The Meyers showed off their new operation Aug. 7 at a Dairy Field Day, hosted by the University of Minnesota Extension, attended by other local farmers, Extension educators and others involved in the dairy business.
On the night of the storms, Andy was at home with his twin daughters when the house lost power. Samantha was at work; Al, Andy’s father, received a phone call that a tornado was headed their way, sending the family down to the basement.
“The whole house shook,” said Al Meyer. “Thirty seconds later, it was all done.”
Strong winds lifted the barn off its foundation, collapsing it with cows inside. The farm also lost a machine shed, other outbuildings and three cows, with several more dying due to injury or stress-related complications soon after.
The Meyers relied on two nearby farms to care for their herd while they rushed to get a new barn built as soon as possible.
“Both those facilities did an amazing job taking care of them,” said Andy Meyer.
The storms had hit on a Thursday; by Sunday, all debris had been cleaned up and carted away with the help of countless neighbors who put their own work on hold to help out.
“We sent out a hundred thank yous to people, and I’m pretty sure we missed people,” said Samantha Meyer. “We didn’t even see some of the people that were here.”
The silver lining — and main draw for the Dairy Field Day — was the opportunity to rebuild with upgraded equipment. The Meyers had previously used an older version of robotic milking machines that allow cows to move freely into a specialized stall, freeing up farmers from a specific milking schedule. The robots also gather data about each cow so farmers can keep a close eye on each cow’s health and nutrition.
With the old robots lost to the storm, the Meyers opted to upgrade to newer versions. The Meyers likened this to upgrading a cell phone: With each new model, functionality, reliability and capacity increases. The new robot’s greater capacity meant the Meyers could increase their herd size, allowing them to sell more milk.
Along with the robots, the Meyers also modified the structure of the barn’s stalls, which are open so cows can move in and out at will, resulting in cows lying more uniformly. This cut costs for sand bedding nearly in half, the equivalent of two semi trailer loads per month.
“A few operational tweaks led to big savings,” said Andy.
Since the dairy barn and robots were insured at replacement cost, the upgrades came at little expense to the family. This, combined with help from the community, left the farm in a strong position just months after the storm’s destruction could have forced the family to sell off the herd and walk away entirely.
“We had a tremendous amount of help from neighbors. You can’t even imagine,” said Andy.