One week after a devastating fire leveled his cow barn, Troy DeRosier, owner of Crystal Ball Farms Organic Dairy near Osceola, said he’s certainly seen better days. But at the same time, he’s optimistic that his on-farm milk processing and delivery business can return to some sort of normalcy by this summer.
“In the long run, it’s gonna be OK,” he said.
In the meantime, DeRosier and his wife, Barb, who have processed most of the organic milk from their approximately 80 cows for delivery to restaurants, stores and other customers throughout the region for many years, face a unique set of challenges.
The DeRosiers’ free-stall barn was destroyed by fire the afternoon of March 29. Community members were quick to rally around the family to help contain the blaze and cows that were running loose on nearby roads and fields. Area farmers with trucks and trailers transported the herd a few miles away to their temporary home at the Raddatz farm, which milks 150 cows but has room for 400. Calves and heifers were able to remain at the DeRosier farm.
Crystal Ball cows are being kept separate from the Raddatz herd, but the farm only has one tank, DeRosier said, so milk from both herds is being stored in the same tank and shipped to F&A Dairy in Dresser. For now, all their milk is going to the Raddatzes as payment for using their facility, and it’s been tough going from $72 per hundredweight for selling their organic milk directly off the farm to nothing.
While only two cows died in the hours right after the fire, DeRosier expects to see many more losses in the weeks ahead due to smoke inhalation. The early-April snowfall and record cold temperatures last week only added insult to injury.
“It’s not looking good,” he said. “I hope there’s some (cows) left to bring back (home).”
But they’re pleased they will be able to maintain their organic dairy certification. DeRosier said they haul their own organic feed in a portable mixer every day to the Raddatz farm.
In the wake of the fire, Crystal Ball has had to shut down its on-farm creamery and store for now, as their milk now is being co-mingled at the Raddatz farm, he said. Also, they can’t operate their creamery as long as the smoke smell still can be detected, and because they’re a federally inspected facility, they would need state and federal exemptions in order to bring milk in without a receiving bay.
While they’re offline for now, he said, most of their loyal customers have indicated they will continue to support Crystal Ball as soon as the facility is back in business. Autumnwood Farm in nearby Forest Lake, Minn., which also bottles milk on the farm, has stepped in to fill some of their standing orders with coffee shops and others, he said, but they’re not large enough to handle all of Crystal Ball’s clientele.
“The biggest thing will be the customers away from here further,” DeRosier said. “If your brand isn’t there, you’re still going to buy milk. ... We’ll have to try to get those back again, but I have a better feeling now than I did before.”
Through last week, DeRosier and his crew worked to clear all milk, butter, ice cream, meat and other items from their on-farm store. Deliveries to area homes and businesses have been postponed until the farm rebuild is complete. While their initial goal was to bring the cows home in six to eight months, he said it’s looking more like the new barn will be finished in as few as four months.
Now in the process of obtaining bids for equipment, a new barn and a new milking parlor, DeRosier views this as an opportunity to upgrade his facilities and expand his herd. He said they’ll likely go to 120 or 180 cows and install either three robotic milkers or a double-8 parallel parlor. While the old barn featured rooftop solar panels, he does not plan to put them on the new barn, instead funneling that money into better accommodations.