SOUTH DAYTON - Family, friends and neighbors are sponsoring a "Hay Benefit" Sunday for the Wayne and Dani Buelow family of Bartlett Hill, South Dayton. Appropriately enough, it will be held on a day with a lot of heart-Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.
Just before Christmas, the Buelows were victims of a fierce blaze that wiped out over a third of their dairy herd, and with that, their livelihood. The fire destroyed the barn with its loft full of hay and all their milking equipment. Thirty-seven head of precious livestock perished in the flames.
Said Wayne, "If I'd been in the house, we'd have probably lost 'em all. I was in the barn--but didn't even know there was a fire 'til I smelled the smoke." Good friend Brian Lycett saw the blaze from his trailer, phoned 911, and ran to the barn, where he joined Wayne in unsnapping nervous cows from their tie stalls and trying to lead them and the wild-eyed calves and heifers outside.
Two cement silos are all that remain after a wind-whipped fire struck shortly before Christmas, killing a total of 37 cows, heifers and calves.
"But as soon as we got 'em out, they'd turn and run back in," mourned Wayne, "especially the young stock. They were just trying to get back to the only place they knew."
He shook his head, remembering. "We were dumb and stayed too long. We did our best to get 'em out." In fact, Brian had a narrow escape when part of the hayloft fell in while he was untying the heifers. Firemen finally forced the two men to leave.
The family remains in shock. But they're also amazed and appreciative for the all-out response to the blaze. "Fire trucks came from everywhere," marveled Wayne. In all, nine fire departments turned out in the losing struggle to save the barn and livestock. Cassadaga, Cherry Creek, Dayton, Fredonia, Forestville, Hanover, Leon, Perrysburg, and South Dayton sent trucks, men and equipment.
The Buelows said they're also grateful to the many law enforcement officers who kept traffic unsnarled, and especially to the neighbors and passersby who rushed to help in a situation that's every farm family's worst nightmare. Even as Wayne and Brian dragged cows out of the barn, people started grabbing and corralling them. By evening, they'd cleared a nearby tool-shed and herded the panic-stricken animals inside.
That same night, others stopped by with offers to care for the fifty-three cattle that had lived through the ordeal. By the following morning, four farmer friends had divided up the survivors and trucked them to their respective barns. "Thanks to Don and Jan Bartlett, Shorty and Renee Gross, Robert Behnke, and Dale and Craig Perry, the animals that made it through are under cover and being fed and milked," Wayne said. "But those guys are using their own hay to feed our cows."
Which brings us to the purpose behind this unusual "Hay Benefit." All proceeds derived from the dinner and other activities will go to buy hay, to replenish the supplies of the farmers who are caring for the Buelow's stock. "Their own supply won't last the winter," said Wayne, "not with our cows eating part of it. We need to get more hay to them."
That's easier said than done, since the Buelows are effectively out of the farming business right now. Their last milk check was for December. "We've been living on that, and on donations," explained Dani.
The family doesn't know if they'll attempt to rebuild or not, because, like so many farmers, they have no reserves to finance such a project. "And what insurance we have, probably won't cover it," Dani said. Right now, their overwhelming goal is to repay those people who are selflessly caring for their surviving animals.
Enter Steve Forster, a big-hearted guy, who remembered the Buelows from several years back when they were farming in the Otto/East Otto area. A farmer himself, he understood their loss, and he came to them with the unusual idea of a "Hay Benefit."
Having put on his fair share of dinners and benefits, Forster offered to "take care of the dinner end of it," and after some initial reluctance, the family got onboard with the idea. "We didn't like the idea of asking for help," said Dani, so Forster proposed that the benefit be a donation only event.
People can drop in at the South Dayton Fire Hall/Community Center (behind the gazebo in the park) on Sunday, Feb. 14, to enjoy a tasty ham dinner, complete with mashed potatoes, veggie, salad, rolls and dessert. Serving will begin at 11:30 a.m. and continue until about 3:00 p.m., with takeouts available. There'll also be a bake sale, and a Chinese auction. Donations will be gratefully accepted, with every penny pledged to the purchase of hay for the four farmers committed to the cow care effort.
Although hay may seem an odd fit for Valentine's Day, the ability to buy some for those "good Samaritans" caring for their animals, would truly lift the Buelows' hearts.