UPDATE Diary farmer optimistic

By John Weiss

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

MANTORVILLE — Despite a major fire one week ago in a cow barn, Rick Pagel said Johnan Holsteins will be ready for a July 9 sale of some of its cows.

The barn will be replaced or repaired by then, the cattle will be in even better shape, the rural Mantorville farm will look even neater.

He guarantees it.


Part of his optimism comes from his personality — "I’m a glass half-full kind of guy," Pagel said.

The other part comes from living outside a big city. "In a rural area, when somebody has a crisis, everybody shows up to help," he said.

The fire was reported just after 5 a.m., March 23 and within a few hours, friends and neighbors showed up with machines to milk the cows that Nate Heeren had rescued from the burning barn.

After that, others came with more help. They had so much food Pagel had to turn some away. Another neighbor allowed Pagel to house some of his cows in an unused barn. That evening, the Johnan cows were milked there, Pagel said.

The help of scores of people from three states affirmed what Pagel believed about rural folk, he said Sunday.

Outside, you could still smell the smoke and see the toppled hay mow and scorched silos. The fire, apparently, was sparked by some electrical problem in the empty hay mow, Pagel said. The farm is owned by John and Nancy Bierbaum of the Twin Cities.

Heeren, who lives on site, said some workers who came to help milk the cows saw the fire and alerted him. He instantly did what was needed — he rushed into the barn to free the cows that were tied in their stalls.

Above the fireproof ceiling were flames 10 feet tall, he said. Inside the cow area was dense smoke. Once he freed the cows, he went back in and called the fire department.


"That (going in) never even fazed me," he said. "I was more worried about the cattle in the barn."

Because of strong winds that blew the fire away from other buildings, and the fireproof ceiling, as well as no hay in the mow, the main part of the barn shows few signs of fire and the other buildings are safe.

So, it’s possible Pagel will only have to build a new roof, although it’s also possible the barn itself will have to be replaced, he said.

Whatever happens, Pagel will be ready for the July 9 sale when buyers from many states and Canada will bid on about 150 head of cattle. After that, Pagel plans to turn his operation into a cattle boarding business, milking some cows and offering city people a chance to see a dairy farm.

Pagel’s not worried about the new hardship facing him.

"In rural America, we just kind of take the hand we’re dealt and go with it," he said.

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