4/15/2013 10:46:00 AM A miracle amidst a tragedy Portion of Aho barn collapses, 33 cows lost
The family’s high producing cows and heifer group were trapped under the debris for nearly five hours. There were 33 cows that were lost from the collapse with many more injured. PHOTO SUBMITTED
Cows stand in a portion of the barn that had collapsed. Nearly 200 people arrived to lend a helping hand cleaning the debris and moving and treating cattle that were affected by the collapse. Work has already begun to rebuild the barn. PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN
by Missy Mussman
WOLF LAKE, Minn. - The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. This verse from the book of Job became a reality for the Aho family during the early morning hours of Friday, March 24. Reino Aho, an owner of 485 cows at Aho Brothers Dairy, was awaken by an emotional phone call from his brother, Harry, telling him that the south side of their freestall barn had collapsed. "It looked scary that morning," Harry Aho said. "I got up and didn't know what I was going to see," Reino said. "The first thing I asked my brother was if any people were in there. I kept telling myself to stay calm; I have to stay calm." After a snowstorm blew through Becker County, Reino and his brothers knew they had a problem. The day prior to the collapse, the brothers talked about dealing with the snow on the south side of the barn. "The snow load generally doesn't collect on the south side of the barn," Reino said. "This time the wind blew from the northwest and drifted the snow to the south side of the barn. We knew we had a problem." Reino had just been over at the farm checking for heats, calves and pushing up feed before heading home at 2:30 a.m. Friday morning. By, 4 a.m. Harry had arrived at the dairy to start morning chores only to find the barn had collapsed. Despite the stress of the barn collapsing, the Ahos were thankful. "We were so thankful for the timing of everything," Reino said. "If this would have happened anytime during the day or just two hours later, we would have had people in the barn," Reino said. "Instead of looking for people, we only had to look for the cows. We see miracles through disasters, and we know God is in control." After arriving at the farm, his first priority was to get the cows that were alive out of the barn. He noticed there were two pens involved, the high group of milking cows in the southeast pen, and the heifer group in the southwest pen. Each pen held 128 cows. "It was a mess. No one knew what was alive or dead," Reino said. "When we opened the doors, the cows that were not trapped ran out of there. We got them and shifted pens around the barn quickly." Reino and his brothers started to head toward the affected area, and noticed there were cows that were trapped under the debris. The high group pen had been hit the worst. The cows had been getting up to be milked and were standing at the bunk. There were 14 cows that were killed instantly from the collapse. "The stalls had held some of the debris off the cows," Reino said. "There were some cows laying down chewing their cud underneath everything." Reino took a flashlight and tried to crawl underneath everything to evaluate the situation further. "There was a fear that the rest of the barn could collapse," Reino said. "Our adrenaline was flowing. We had to do what we could do." Reino's nephew, Ryan, is on the fire department and was at his brother, Harvey's house that night. He was the one that ended up calling the fire department. "I didn't know if I should since it wasn't a fire," Reino said. "By the time I got to the farm at 4:40 a.m. the fire department was already there," Reino's wife, Peggy, said. "They were fast getting out here." The Wolf Lake Fire Department was first on the scene. Their fire chief, Dale Hillukka, who had just found out his cancer had returned, showed up and was very persistent to know what the game plan was. "I knew the only way to salvage the cows pinned underneath the debris was with human hands," Reino said. "We would need to shovel snow in order not to hurt them." Reino knew he was going to need some help, but it was difficult for him to ask for it. "Dale came up to me and told me he could get a lot of bodies out here in a hurry and it could cost money," Reino said. "I told him money was not an issue." Not long after, the Carsonville, Perham, Detroit Lakes and Frazee fire departments showed up to help along with North Memorial EMT and Wolf Lake Rescue. They started moving the debris to help get the cows out. "Local farmers, neighbors and people we didn't even know had come out here to help us," Reino said. "There were about 200 people out here by the end of the day doing what they could to help us. We could never thank the fire department and everyone else enough." "Nobody came empty handed either," Peggy added. "People were bringing food and equipment to help." As they started to uncover some of the cows, Reino had to start making decisions for what to do with the cows that were crippled with a broken back, leg and deep lacerations. He made the call to the shipping company and Dr. Kevin Haroldson, a local vet, to haul out cattle that were badly injured and treat those that could be. "We were getting people out of bed, but no one turned me down," Reino said. "I had to give these cows every chance we could." Their insurance agent even came twice that day to reassure them that they could rebuild this. "I knew we could rebuild this, but being reassured felt better," Reino said. The people that had come to help spent the day welding, moving debris, moving cows and sweeping and cleaning out the barn to bring the cows back in. All the while the clean up was going on, morning milking was getting done. Their son-in-law's father, Lee Ingvalson, had brought his mixer wagon to help feed cows. Their neighbor, Jason Mickelson, called Dairyland Supply to get a portable milker pump to milk the injured cows. Their employee, Dawne Loper, had done everything she could with the cows. By 6 p.m., the cows had been moved back into pens. A total of 33 cows were lost. Reino was standing in the hospital barn with all of the injured cows, and things were finally starting to set in from the day. "Young farmers were coming up to me and giving me a hug, or laying their hand on my shoulder," Reino said. "I needed that encouragement." After coming home that night Reino had cried with his wife. "If affected me losing our top cows, but it was a miracle knowing what could have happened, what we could have lost," Reino said. "They are more than cows to me, they have provided for my family and have given me a living." Tyrone Aho, Reino's nephew and Assistant Herd Manager, wanted to make this positive and used Facebook to do that. "We are amazed at the will and determination of the girls (cows)," Tyrone posted on Facebook. "It was hard to see them suffer. Each cow that was lost brought something special, and it hit me when so many left at once. It left a void." The Ahos are in the process of starting to rebuild and will officially be well underway by April 15. "The Lord gives and the Lord takes," Reino said. "He sure did take, but he also gave us a community like no other. We appreciate the help from every single person that came out that day. It means so much to us."