Dairy cleans up after filled silo falls

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SALEM, Ohio – Gene Starkey nearly fell to his knees crying.
Just outside the back door of his Champaign County dairy barn, where a silo and Harvestore and four hopper-bottom feed bids stand, a black cloud overwhelmed him.
At 6:15 a.m. Oct. 12, Starkey realized what he was looking at: His silo had tumbled, splitting at its seams and dumping its insides everywhere.
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Nearly a year’s worth of work – the hundreds of hours Starkey and his wife, Shelly, spent working ground and planting and harvesting cornfields for silage – fell along with that silo.
It came to rest on four 150-foot silage bags on the ground, splitting them open and exposing their fill, too.
The scene could have been worse. Shelly was milking and Gene was scraping inside the barn when the monster laid over. Luckily it fell away from them, they say.
Gene called his farming partner, his father-in-law, Mark Hoewischer, to share the disbelief.
“But there’s not much to say when the thing’s already down.”
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It’s a full-time job to manage the farm, Gene Starkey said. Cleaning up is a full-time job, too.
The Starkeys and Hoewischers, who milk around 285 head of Holsteins, Milking Shorthorns and showstring Jerseys on their western Ohio farm, continued the task this week.
They were delayed by insurance agents and adjusters and investigators who demanded to see the accident in its original condition – no cleanup allowed beforehand – and then told them the structure and its contents weren’t covered.
The silo stood 80 feet tall and 24 feet across and held more than 1,000 tons of silage. The feed began to rot while the Starkeys waited.
Friends and neighbors still stop by, especially on weekends, and help sift through the mold, cement staves and metal bands. Starkey’s father, Harold, who lives in Alliance, Ohio, drove three hours to help, too.
“It’s about four months of feed we’re salvaging and rebagging, but you’ve got to go through every bit of it. You can’t risk feeding mold to the cows,” Gene Starkey said, noting the silage condition has caused the herd’s milk production to drop.
“I don’t need to go through this ordeal again. After this, it’s bags or maybe a bunker. I’m keeping it on the ground.”
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Two years ago, Gene Starkey tore down what was then the farm’s fifth cement silo. It bowed, looked like a banana when it was filled, he said.
“You were always really leery to fill that one. It just wasn’t safe.”
The fallen silo was the newest on the farm. When he filled it in September, it didn’t bulge or lean or “juice” at all, which would have hinted something was wrong, Starkey said.
“This one, to look at it, it was the best structure on the farm.”
But nobody knows why this silo fell.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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