Feb. 27 — Gary Gullicksrud scrambled to save as many of his 2,100 cows as possible early on Feb. 24, as large chunks of roof in four separate barns on his rural Strum farm fell to the ground from the heavy weight of snow accumulating on the buildings.
“About 2:30 Sunday morning, my workers called me, saying they could hear the roof starting to crack,” Gullicksrud said on Feb. 25. “It was like a domino effect. Each (ceiling panel) kept falling in, one after another. One barn was a total loss. It was just a big avalanche when it went. We had quite a mess.”
A 960-stall milking barn is a complete loss. Gullicksrud said the ceiling, at its highest point, is perhaps 35 to 40 feet from the ground.
“We got as many cattle out as we possibly could, but we couldn’t save them all,” he said. “It’s a sickening feeling.”
A total of 40 cows were killed, and another 20 that were injured were sold for slaughter, he said.
“Luckily, no one was injured,” he said.
The barns are about 120 feet wide. One of the damaged barns was constructed in 1993, and the others were added in 1997. He isn’t sure how quickly they can be fixed.
“The (insurance) adjuster has to look at it,” he said. “It’s something to see. It’s pretty devastating.”
Gullicksrud said the farm, known as Hamlin Valley Farms, has been in his family for years. They are halfway between Strum and Eleva. There had never been any problems with collapsing barns in the past.
“The wind was so strong, the snow all drifted from one side to the other,” he said. “It just got to be too much weight for it to bear.”
Mark Hagedorn, UW-Extension agriculture agent in Eau Claire County, said he was aware of “eight to 10” structures that collapsed in his county alone in recent days because of heavy snow on roofs.
“These are ranging from storage sheds to barns that are housing livestock,” Hagedorn said. “It’s across the board. For the most part, these are older — maybe built in the 1980s or older. When you start having this amount of snow, even these buildings that are built to code goes out the window.”
Hagedorn said it isn’t too late for farmers to get a roof rake out and attempt to clear as much snow as they can in hope of avoiding a collapse.
Jerry Clark, UW-Extension agriculture agent in Chippewa County, said he was aware of four farm building collapses in his county.
“From an engineering standpoint, there isn’t a code or standards to be met requiring certain number of trusses or rafters,” Clark explained. “We see it more on the agricultural side because they can be built to meet the farmers’ needs.”
Jeremy Mahr of Stanley had a 24-foot section collapse in one of his older barns at 6 a.m. on Feb. 24.
“It took us three hours to get the debris moved so we could milk the cows again,” Mahr said. “I had some employees in the vicinity, but they weren’t there, luckily. No people were injured; no cows were injured. There was a lot of snow and debris and electric wires. It could have been a lot worse.”
Mahr said the hole is still in the roof; he already had a contractor out to inspect it but isn’t sure when it can be fixed.
Lee Jensen of Five Star Dairy in Elk Mound also had a 24-by-40-foot section of roof collapse on Feb. 24. Luckily, the collapsed area was only about 14 feet tall.
“That particular pen has no milking cows, so that was good,” Jensen said. “There was one cow that was buried, but I got her out. I don’t think she was hit by the rafter.”
Like Gullicksrud, he said the blowing snow was likely a factor.
“The barn is 550 feet long, and there is no snow on one side, and a lot on the other,” Jensen said.
Repair work is already underway. He put his cows outside just in case.
“They got the troubled support pole stabilized, and put a second one in,” Jensen said. “It’s more nerve-wracking than anything.”
Ralph Myhre of the town of Sumner in Trempealeau County was examining the debris on Feb. 25 from the collapse of one of his sheds. Myhre said about a dozen volunteers helped with cleanup.
While farm buildings have suffered damage, several other businesses have sustained collapses. In Osseo, six different farm buildings or other structures have been damaged, including Osseo Evangelical Lutheran Church, said Fire Chief Nels Gunderson.
“It was one section of a Sunday school area,” Gunderson said. He estimated it was about a 40-by-40-foot area that collapsed into the building early on Feb. 24.
About 40 to 50 people showed up between firefighters and volunteers.
“From a snow standpoint, this is as bad as I’ve seen,” Gunderson said.
Gunderson said his department is actively looking for buildings that could be in danger of collapsing, and he’s posted an the department’s Facebook page to remind people to remove snow if possible.
Gunderson said his department also helped out at an Amish farm between Osseo and Augusta where a few cattle were killed in a barn collapse.