SALEM, Ohio – It was black, but not blacker than any other storm this summer.
“Then the wind picked up and blew like never before,” said Tuscarawas County dairyman Tim Sigrist.
He shut down the parlor before electricity surges could burn the milk pump and watched the June 22 storm from the milkhouse doorway.
His children’s trampoline flew by, the wind lodging it in a shed.
The tree in the corner of the yard that had been there his entire life plunged across the yard.
It was bad, he knew, but maybe not that bad.
What followed, though, was unlike anything he’d seen before.
Saving, losing. Within minutes, the rain slowed and the wind calmed.
At the same time, employee Russell Frazier ran through the door where Sigrist stood, telling him the calf shed blew into the manure pit.
The shed wasn’t the only thing sinking in manure. Four calves were also trying to stay afloat.
Sigrist hauled the first three out, but as he stood waist-deep in manure, he couldn’t find the fourth. He finally spotted it on the opposite edge and, as he called for it, it slowly swam toward him.
While he waited, he looked up for the first time. The 40-by-85 bank barn was gone.
“Oh, God,” he thought to himself. He’d just fed the dry cows and bred heifers in that barn 10 minutes before the storm rolled in. When he left, they were all lined up eating.
And the feedlot for the milking cows was next to that barn. During storms they usually crowded against it for protection.
Sigrist went to the rubble, knowing what he would find but it didn’t make it any easier to see.
The barn had collapsed, toppling onto the feedlot. Eighty large round bales on the second floor of the bank barn multiplied the impact.
The cows, now on the ground and blanketed in debris, were still in a row.
“It came with a snap of a finger and left with a snap of a finger,” Sigrist said, “and this is what was left.”
Left behind. Forty-nine dry cows and bred heifers were killed during this storm, which many called a tornado although it wasn’t confirmed.
In addition to smashing the bank barn, the storm also destroyed three sheds that were part of Sigrist’s compost facility called Bull Country Compost.
Trees on the property were sprawled across fields and the pasture was littered with insulation and shingles.
Calling for help. That night, shortly after he found the cows under the broken barn, Sigrist called 911 – simply because he didn’t know who else to call.
Word spread and within minutes, neighbors, farmers and friends arrived.
Sigrist and the others rolled most of the 1,100-pound bales away by hand, trying to get to the cows. A track hoe came later and lifted beams, and the fire department brought spare chain saws and light towers.
First, they filled Sigrist’s sick pens, and then storage buildings, with injured cows. The last two were pulled out alive at 1 a.m.
Sigrist’s milking herd shrank from 120 cows that morning to 88 by nightfall.
The loss is covered by insurance, Sigrist said, and contractors already poured the cement for the new barn.
“We need to be quick,” he said. “We need somewhere to put these cows.”
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)