Rebuilding for a new herd: Dairying family doesn't let collapsed barn take them down
CHATFIELD, Minn. — The road to recovery for a Chatfield family dairy operation in southern Minnesota is shaping up to be downhill and direct.
The Hoffman family, run by brothers John and Corey Hoffman and their father, Gary, are hoping to be back in regular operation at North-Creek Dairy in Chatfield by November. That would be less than a year after they suffered their toughest challenge in farming yet.
In February, the family that won Olmsted County Farm Family of the Year in 2018 sold their herd when a second section of roofing on the barn that housed 446 of their cows collapsed. Two days before that, the first section had collapsed, killing at least 10 cows. They knew after the second collapse that it would get worse, so they found a buyer and got the cattle out safely.
The scene was tragic as hundreds of cows were milked and then loaded into trailers and taken from the farm. That day and in the days to follow, nobody in the Hoffman family was sure what they would do.
"We honestly didn't have a clue what we were going to do, or if we were done dairy-ing or what," said Corey Hoffman of the days after the collapses.
The Hoffmans knew they had insurance for a collapsed roof, but they weren't sure how much it would cover. If it wouldn't cover the cost for a complete rebuild, Hoffman said they couldn't afford it.
An insurance adjuster came down to assess the damage not long after the family sold the herd. Two more collapses happened after all the cows were out of the barn. The old barn, built in 2007, was 290-feet long and about 230 feet of it collapsed.
Corey Hoffman said they went back and forth with the adjuster until he made an offer the family was OK with. After getting financial approval from their bank and a downpayment, the rebuilding process became official.
"It was definitely a family decision, and we all wanted to keep going," said Corey Hoffman.
Kreofsky Building Supplies will build the new barn. The company had built a section of the old barn in 2015, and it was the only part that remained standing after the collapses.
The Hoffmans are doing some prep work and heavy construction will begin later this month.
"I'm hoping by the first of November, we'll be milking," said Corey Hoffman.
Most of the collapsed barn was dismantled earlier this summer and the new one will be built in the same spot. The new barn will have the same dimensions and will be very similar to the old, but it will have tunnel ventilation, which Corey Hoffman said will be better for the cows.
The new barn also will have double the support posts, and will be able to withstand twice the snow load as the old one.
Snow load is one thing the Hoffmans know a lot about now.
"We know snow load and we also know insurance policies a lot better," said Hoffman. "Those are two things we never really paid a whole lot of attention to, but after last winter, I think everybody will be."
He said they didn't know until the collapse that there was no building code for ag buildings in Minnesota.
"So we're going to go above and beyond with this next one, so we never have to go through this again," said Hoffman.
Hoffman said they'll have about 420 milking cows housed in the new barn, with 20 to 30 springers.
Shortly after the collapse, the Hoffmans found a farm to take their heifers that were pregnant, and they'll get them back when the barn is ready. But the cows they sold, they won't get back.
That means they'll have about 350 cows to buy in order to pick back up where they left off in February. They've been looking, but haven't decided on any yet. Corey Hoffman said if farmers have offers for them, they'll hear them.
Buying a new herd will be a challenge, but for the Hoffmans, it's just the right step.
"I'm the fourth-generation, and I tell everybody, every generation has had their struggles," said Corey Hoffman. "And this is just our struggle right now."
He said it would've been a different kind of decision if it had been a natural disaster that ruined more than just a barn. But Hoffman said the rest of their farm is fairly new, and they didn't want it to just start collecting dust.
"And luckily the milk futures look a lot brighter, so that helped encourage our banker," said Hoffman. "Otherwise it'd be a different story."
Picking up a new job
One of the remnants of a barn collapse are thousands of nails and screws littering the ground, waiting to puncture tires, skin or worse.
Such was the case at North-Creek Dairy near Chatfield after a barn roof fell under heavy snow in February.
The solution? Pay the kids to pick up the small bolts, nails and screws.
Corey Hoffman told his daughter and son that he'd give them 10 cents for every screw or nail they found.
"I didn't really think they'd be into it that much. Then she filled up two 5 gallon pails," he said of his daughter Tira.
His daughter is now obsessed with picking them up, he said, and making great money for a 4-year-old.
"It doesn't matter what she's doing or playing with, if I bring it up, she'll beg me to go pick up screws and nails," said Hoffman.