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Close to 130 calves rescued from barn fire

About one-third of the roof on a calf barn at the Schottler Dairy on County Road I in the town of St. Joseph collapsed in a fire late Thursday night. All but three of approximately 130 calves survived the fire.1 / 2
Firefighters battle the blaze at the Schottler Dairy on County I in the town of St. Joseph. Five departments fought the fire, led by the St. Joseph Volunteer Fire Department. Osceola Sun photo2 / 2

All but three of 130 calves and half the barn survived a fire late Thursday night at the large Schottler Dairy on County Road I a couple of miles north of Burkhardt.

"We just feel lucky that the calves got out," Georgine Schottler said Friday morning. Georgine and her husband, John, operate the 800-cow dairy farm with help from their sons Tom and Joe, daughter Marie and son-in-law Rick.

Georgine said she and John got a call just before midnight from one of their sons informing them of the fire. Her children, son-in-law and farm employees were already at the barn rescuing the calves from it.

"We had very good help by the employees getting the calves out of the barn. We're grateful that no one was hurt, and it looks like we're able to save about half the barn," Georgine Schottler said.

Ron Burton, chief of the St. Joseph Volunteer Fire Department, said there were about 130 calves in the barn when the fire broke out.

Burton said the fire was reported by a farm worker and added, "That was kind of key, because it was discovered early enough on that the fire didn't have a real big head start on us."

The cause of the fire hasn't been determined, he said.

The St. Joseph department was paged at 11:38 p.m. and arrived at the farm 16 minutes later.

Burton, who lives three miles from the Schottler farm, said he saw a glow in the sky from fire as he left his home.

He immediately called for assistance from the Hudson and New Richmond fire departments, knowing that it was a major fire and that the weather was cold. The Roberts and Somerset departments were called to provide mutual aid a short time later.

Burton said the roof had already collapsed on end of the barn where the fire started when the St. Joseph department reached the scene.

The Schottlers and their employees had about half of the calves out of the building and firefighters assisted in rescuing all but three of the remaining calves, according to Burton.

He said the pole-barn type building has a wood frame and metal roof. The calves were bedded in sawdust.

Georgine Schottler reported that the barn has fabric walls that can be rolled up to let in the breeze during the summer.

Burton said the wood frame of the barn was burning, as well as some of the sawdust bedding.

Firefighters entered the end of the barn that wasn't burning and stopped the flames with streams from fire hoses.

The St. Joseph department uses an irrigation well on the Schottler Dairy as a water source, so firefighters didn't have to leave the farm for water.

"That was really an added advantage for us," Burton said.

Firefighters battled the blaze in single-digit temperatures. Burton said his private truck registered the temperature at 3 degrees F when he returned home at 5 a.m.

The St. Joseph department was at the Schottler farm until 2:59 a.m. Burton spent the next two hours completing reports and helping get the main fire engine prepared for the next call.

He had gotten only an hour of sleep since the fire when he talked to the Star-Observer Friday morning. He said there was still three or four hours of hose cleaning to be done at the fire station.

"The quick response of the fire department was to be appreciated," Georgine Schottler said, referring to the St. Joseph department.

"That's an outstanding fire department," she added. "Ron Burton is in charge and I have respected him."

The calf barn is the newest of several barns on the Schottler Dairy.

Schottler said the rescued Holstein heifer calves were returned to the west end of the calf barn Friday morning. They are being raised to be milk-producing cows.