‘I was numb at the time’
Even two days after a devastating fire knocked out his dairy operation, Brian Seykora was overcome by emotion while sharing about how his life has been upended.
“It’s a surreal scene out there. I don’t believe it is happening,” said Seykora, who has produced one of the top dairy herds in Minnesota. “You just don’t replace all the hard work I have put into it.”
On Saturday afternoon, Seykora walked through the burned shell of what once housed his cows that rank in the top 10 statewide for milk production. “All I saw was daylight, smoke and burnt wood,” he said. “You hate to see it… life throws you a lot of curveballs.”
Seykora is the sixth generation of his family to operate the dairy farm. Joining him on the farm are his wife, Mary Beth, an elementary school teacher in Owatonna, and their sons, Matthew, a senior at Owatonna High School and Mitchell, who is a freshman.
While sharing how he has employed at least 20 Owatonna area teenagers at the farm over the past 23 years, Seykora became emotional. “People have reached out to tell me what a joy it was to work out there,” he said. “We know we were doing it right,” he said fighting back the tears.
Seykora was enjoying his son’s baseball game in Owatonna Thursday night when he received a message that the barn was on fire. “When I got there, flames were shooting 30 feet above the roof,” he said. “I was numb at the time.”
Once Seykora got to the farm, he discovered four neighbors, Matt Deml, Mike Klecker and Ben and Jake Rysavy, pulling cows and calves out of the barn. “It wasn’t safe going in there, but they did,” Seykora said. “They risked their lives,” he said, adding some had to be checked out by paramedics for smoke inhalation.
Seykora, 44, said he wasn’t thinking clearly when he got to the scene. “My priority was saving as many animals as I could,” he said. “That’s my livelihood. Twenty-three years of building genetics and to see it go up in flames.”
After the fire began, about 50 people showed up at the farm to help out, according to Seykora. “They were protecting the other buildings and spraying the cows to keep them cool,” he said, adding that at least 70 more spectators came out to see the fire.
“People bend over backward in a time of need,” Seykora said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
He said his greatest joy in dairy farming has been watching the progression of genetics in the cows. “I like to see the next generation better than the last,” Seykora said, adding he loves to be outdoors and caring for the animals.
The dairy farmer said there are good days as well as bad days in farming. Last Thursday happened to be one of those bad days, Seykora said. But, he quickly added, “there will be better days ahead.”
Seykora prides himself on the dairy operation he has developed since he came back home from college with a dairy science degree in 1993. His primary focus has always been treating the animals right and promoting a healthy product to feed the world.
Asked if he plans to rebuild, Seykora paused with emotion and said, “My heart says definitely, but everyone knows you have to use your head. It will take a little time to figure that out.”
Seykora said it will be a family decision as he considers whether or not to rebuild. He said he knows it will be tough to start from scratch. But weighing on his mind is his son, Matt, who has expressed interest in returning home after college to join the family operation. Matt will attend Southwest State next fall.
Seykora said insurance would cover only a fraction of the cost it will take to rebuild, which he estimated would be as high as $1 million.
Seykora said the Clover Glen Dairy Farm stepping up to help with milking will give his family time to make a rational decision. “It’s letting us make the right decision for us.”
A fellow dairy producer, Deb McDermott-Johnson, co-owner of Clover Glen, said she hopes Seykora will rebuild. “This industry needs young men like (Seykora),” she said. “He’s quiet and competitive and knows his cows. We know the quality of his work. He has been a benchmark for us. He sets the standard.”
Meanwhile, friends and family have set up a Gofundme campaign to help the Seykoras with their loss. As of Sunday night, more than $31,000 of the $40,000 goal had been reached. Those interested in contributing can do so at Gofundme.com/f/friends-of-brian-and-mary.
“He has a lot of pride and doesn’t want help,” said Scott Seykora, Brian’s brother. “He works hard for everything he has. He has built up quite a farming operation.”
Fire kills 7 milk cows, destroys dairy barn
BY DEB FLEMMING
Brian Seykora credits good neighbors and good employees for saving most of his dairy herd last week.
A Thursday evening fire destroyed Seykora’s century-old dairy barn located at 11632 24th Ave. S.E., Owatonna, and about 3,000 bales of straw and alfalfa hay. Seven of Seykora’s 42 milk cows also died in the fire.
Blooming Prairie Fire Chief Dean Naatz said more than 35 firefighters from four area fire departments battled the blaze near Litomysl for nearly eight hours.
“It was a long-winded fire,” said Naatz, adding that the call came in a little before 7 p.m. and firefighters left around 3 a.m. “You could see smoke from [Highway] 218 and when we arrived at the scene, the fire was burning through the roof.”
Firefighters from Ellendale, Geneva and Owatonna assisted Blooming Prairie in battling the blaze. Ellendale Ambulance Service out of Geneva and the Steele County Sheriff’s Department were also on the scene.
When the fire broke out, Naatz said, people started untying the cows and opened the barn doors allowing most of the herd, which included 45 milk cows and 12-15 calves, to escape. The surviving cows were trucked to a farm near Claremont.
“The worst part was the hay,” said Naatz, adding that after a trackhoe picked off the dairy barn’s tin roof, firefighters methodically removed the hay from the wooden structure and wet it down throughout the night.
Two cement silos filled with corn silage and haylage, located adjacent to the barn, were not damaged, said Naatz. “We hit them with water to keep them cool.”
The cause of the fire is unknown and remains under investigation by the State Fire Marshal, although Naatz said there was nothing suspicious about the blaze.
Seykora speculated that a wiring issue caused by a rodent may be responsible for igniting the fire.