HARRISVILLE TWP. — Ask any member of the Indoe family about the tornado that flattened three of their barns and damaged a silo at their farm on Richman Road two years ago, and they will respond with stories of kindness.
“The response of all our neighbors and friends was amazing,” said Bill Indoe as he ushered Ruthie, Jolene and Jill into their stalls in the new milking barn. The gates clanged shut behind them, and Bill pulled a cord that released ground corn into a feeding box at the front of the stall for Ruthie to munch as he prepared the big black-and-white Holstein for milking.
“I can’t begin to tell you how many people were here within an hour. One man from Akron drove up with a telescoping light. He saw on the news we were working by truck lights. A lady from Litchfield brought pans of chicken for meals the next morning. 4-H kids, the Junior Leaders, gave us a donation toward the new barn. It gets you kind of teary-eyed.”
In the days and weeks that followed the Aug. 9 storm, people brought supplies, hope and plenty of muscle to the Indoes’ Richman Farms. The Morlock family in Wayne County housed the surviving cows as cleanup began, and Amish carpenters began work to restore the barns.
The American flag atop the remaining silo catches the breeze, fluttering high above the new barn, white with deep green trim, that stands in place of the old milking barn.
Sweet-smelling hay fills the upper level, with young cows housed below. The wide board flooring is the only thing that remains from the original.
As he used a forklift to move massive bales into the new structure, carefully building a castle of hay, Tom Indoe said the Amish came in one day to put up trusses and frame the big barn.
“We might not have room for all the hay, but that’s a good problem to have,” he said after he placed the last bale and shut down the machine. “First and second cuttings were good. The third is not as good.”
The Indoes farm about 800 acres, and with the exception of soybeans, Tom said the crops have fared well this year.
“Soybeans planted early in the season don’t look too bad, but any planted later, around Memorial Day, are struggling. We need some rain and heat,” he said.
As Sticks the border collie brought a Frisbee for Tom to throw, Richard Indoe pulled up with another load of hay. Richard, lean in blue jeans and a red sleeveless T-shirt, sunglasses set back on the dark blue ball cap he wore, talked about the changes the storm brought as he walked down the slope to the milking barn. Occasionally the Ohio State University fight song — the ring tone on his cell phone — punctuated his sentences.
The Indoes salvaged wood from the old barn to frame mopboard, windows and doors in the new one, which boasts a vet room, heated floors and energy-efficient equipment. It still isn’t quite finished, but the milking parlor and holding pen were completed just before the cows came home on Nov. 1, 2008.
In the outer office area, photos of the old barn hang on the wall along with antique farm implements. Small models of champion cows they have owned, including North Lanes Banker Sarah, killed in the storm, line the shelves above award banners Indoe stock won in competition. A win in the show ring adds another plus to pedigrees, and cows with a good show record command a better price.
“We have a sister to Sarah getting ready to calve,” Richard said. One year prior to the tornado, Richman Farms had a nine-month run as the top milk-producer in the country. “Then things went downhill a little bit.”
At milking time, cows congregate in an open, airy holding pen cooled by multiple rows of fans. It’s filled with a compost-sawdust pack that’s comfy for the cows and reduces smell and flies. The Indoes cultivate it twice a day and add more sawdust when needed. Dreamy-eyed Holstein, Jerseys, Brown Swiss and one Ayrshire stand in the cool shadows and sculpt blocks of mineral salt into modern art with their long, rough tongues or nap on the dark compost blend.
Bill Indoe said when the cows came home from the Morlocks’ farm, they walked around the pasture and came right back in. “The cows just love this barn.”
They move from the holding pen to a six-stall milking parlor equipped with some of the latest machinery that makes the chore easier and eliminates bending over to attach the milkers.
“We used to come to the cows in tie stalls, now they come to us,” Richard said, indicating the cows gathering near the doors and peering through the metal gate at the milking stalls where grandson Tyler Indoe worked. “We’re milking about 57 cows now, just about the same number as before the storm. We’re getting about 74 pounds of milk per cow per day, and that’s a good amount.”
Despite the recovery, the Indoes, like every other dairy, struggle with milk prices that have plummeted since mid-January. “We’re losing about $4 per cow per day, but we’re hanging in there for when it comes back,” Richard said as he surveyed the sleepy-eyed cows contentedly munching feed as they loafed in the long pen after milking. He talked about what they still face in order to bring the operation back to where it was before the storm hit on that Thursday afternoon in 2007.
“We have a little bit more work,” he said. “We need to finish a holding and treatment area at the end of this aisle, and there’s more fence to build. We’ll reclaim the hillside and probably think about building another barn for bred heifers and dry cows.”
The Indoes are working on plans for a party to show their appreciation.
“The only thing we want to do is recognize the people that helped,” Bill said. “We owe people forever. We want to pay it forward.”
Contact Judy A. Totts at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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