Glenn (left) and Aron Heinen stand in their shop Jan. 6, two days after a fire destroyed their dairy barn south of St. Rosa, Minnesota. The barn, 48 dairy cows and 3,500 bales of hay were destroyed.
Glenn (left) and Aron Heinen stand in their shop Jan. 6, two days after a fire destroyed their dairy barn south of St. Rosa, Minnesota. The barn, 48 dairy cows and 3,500 bales of hay were destroyed. PHOTO BY MARK KLAPHAKE

ST. ROSA, Minn. – An early morning barn fire took the dairy facility and all the milking cows housed within on Jan. 4 near St. Rosa, Minnesota. 
Glenn Heinen and his son, Aron, who dairy together, lost their dairy facility and their 48 milking cows in the blaze.
“It didn’t really hit me until that night that they were gone, everything was gone,” said Heinen, a dairy farmer for 30 years. “Those cows were my whole life. I feel so sorry for those poor cows. I loved and cared for them all their lives.”

Heinen was alerted of the disaster around 5:30 a.m. when a neighbor passing by saw the fire. 
“He called 6 minutes before my alarm went off,” Glenn said. “I think your barn is on fire. The whole kitchen was glowing. I dialed 911 as fast as I could and out the door we went.”
When Glenn got out the door there were flames coming out of the hay barn door and the barn was totally engulfed. 
“I was freaking out,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do. I stood there in shock and thought ‘I have to get my cows, get my animals out’ but not a chain rattled, nothing.”
When the fire departments of Freeport, Melrose, Albany and Grey Eagle arrived, they found the fire was concentrated more to the middle of the tiestall barn but was spreading quickly.
Aron, who lives with his dad, helped move six calves, which were about 20-feet from the barn, to a safer place. 
“That first hutch was melting already, there was that much heat,” Glenn said. 
Aron agreed.
“I remember grabbing a calf to make sure they were OK and get them moved out of there,” he said. 
When Aron’s brothers, Chris, Matt and Jeremy, arrived, they immediately headed to the back of the barn and were able to free all the heifers which were housed in a lean-to on the southside of the dairy barn. They were able to free them by opening a gate and door on the structure. 
 “We had to sell some because of smoke inhalation,” Glenn said. “We salvaged about 36 heifers out of 40. It’s a cold part of the barn. They were ready to get out. We saved a lot of animals, everything we could.”
Aron added, “When we got the heifers far enough away, I was standing and watching the fire for 10 minutes. I realized it was all gone. I started crying. I was in the shop for about two hours and couldn’t go back outside to deal with it.”
The fire departments spent nearly six hours battling the fire, but unfortunately the barn, which included 3,500 small square bales of hay, was gone. The barn was a 36- by 60-foot structure and the lean-to was 24- by 48-foot.
“I can’t thank them enough,” said Glenn of the firefighters. “It was unreal the help they gave us; words can’t describe it. They were here in 10 to 15 minutes. They grabbed the trucks and did everything they could.”
At the time of this writing, the cause of the blaze is yet unknown according to the fire inspector. 
“We just don’t know,” Glenn said. “We know it didn’t start in the milkhouse. We saw that catch fire at daylight. The rest of the barn was pretty much gone before daylight.”
Memories is all the duo have left of their 48 cows that meant so much to them. 
“It was a lot of work to get the genetics where I had them, the milk and the strength and animals where it was,” Glenn said. “They were happy cows with strong legs. A lot of them you had to pet as you milked them. They were more than cows for us.”
The herd consisted of several breeds including Milking Shorthorn, Brown Swiss, Holstein and crossbreds; some were 7-years-old.  
“I’ve been helping all my life,” Aron said. “I had a really deep connection to them. I loved everything about dairy farming. It was peaceful and calming.” 
The Heinens are uncertain where their dairy careers are headed now.  
“It’s too early to tell what we’ll do,” Glenn said. “This is by far the worst day of my life. I always thought maybe the boys would want to take over when I want to retire. Now, with the prices, it’s too hard. The family farm is still the best way of life.”
Aron had planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, but the loss of the milking herd and facility has left a big unknown for him. 
“I ideally planned on making this my life,” Aron said. “Everything else didn’t seem like it fit per se. You feel a tug and feel like it’s the right direction.”