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Copenhagen farm family recovers from devastating fire; love of dairy shines through

Construction workers lay roofing on the skeleton structure of the Kennel family’s new barn on Thursday in Copenhagen. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Once the smoke had cleared and the immediate shock wore off after the devastating barn fire that took a family’s main livelihood, new opportunities and a renewed commitment to a tough industry shone through

“I hope I’m farming when it’s all done. That’s where my heart is,” said Walt Kennel the morning of April 27, as the blaze that took 550 of the dairy cows belonging to he and his wife, Doris, was still smoldering, and the family was considering their next steps.

The decision to re-build the barn and replenish the herd didn’t, however, turn out to be the most difficult part, according to Mrs. Kennel.

Weighing options, comparing prices, quality, customer service and myriad other options for every part of the new barn was overwhelming at times for the family.

“Now that all of the decisions have been made, it’s exciting,” Mrs. Kennel said.

Insurance covered rebuilding costs, according to Mr. Kennel, and the company was very helpful.

“Everything just came together,” one of the Kennel’s sons, Tim, said, “Everybody rolls with the punches in dairy. There are always challenges. This was just a bigger challenge.”

In the largest loss of livestock to a barn fire in recent memory, 550 cows were killed in a blaze at Walt and Doris Kennel’s farm at 8711 State Route 12 in Copenhagen. Watertown Daily Times

On Aug. 24, W.L. Moser Construction led by Wendell Moser began the new barn and by Sept. 12, metal panels were being mounted on the 116-foot by 482-foot wooden frame.

“We added about eighteen feet onto the back of the barn,” the younger Mr. Kennel said, “We just needed a few more stalls.”

Rather than rebuild exactly what was lost, the family also decided to invest in adding a separate milking parlor to the farm’s buildings instead of milking in the main barn, which was “cheap but not so efficient.”

“We’re going a bit beyond what we had before. If you’re going to stay in it, you have to keep moving forward,” he said.

The cows will be the biggest beneficiaries of change, Tim Kennel said, with better ventilation and motorized back scratchers because, without happy cows, there is no business.

The family has already bought 250 cows, with 300 still to come, but Tim said it takes time to find the right cattle dealer with the right herd at the right price so the rest of the herd will wait until the barn is finished.

Focusing on surviving the income loss since the fire while they rebuilt and ensuring they haven’t had to let go any of their workers, the family is eager to get milking again as soon as possible and so will move cows in as soon as the first half of the barn is built to get started.

The Kennel family credits their ability to rebuild relatively quickly and survive the financial hardships largely to the people in their lives.

“Friends and family are all pitching in some,” Tim Kennel said, “It’s a testament to our community around here. Lewis County is a great place to live.”

For the fact that both he and his brother had no desire to leave the farm, but wanted to stay with the family, he gave the kudos to two specific people.

“It’s a credit to our parents,” he said, “There are no guarantees, but it’s a great place for a family, to raise kids on the farm. We enjoy the community, we enjoy the work and we have an opportunity to do it.”

By November, the younger Mr. Kennel said, the new barn is expected to be finished and, hopefully, have every stall filled with a happy cow.


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