ADAMS — The Ziembas lost a bull, a barn, and a winter's worth of cow feed in a fire early Sunday morning at Broadlawn Farm.
Now they're in a struggle to save the farm itself.
The fire claimed the herd's only bull, took out the L-shaped barn used to house the feeder and shelter the cattle, and destroyed all the hay in storage to use as feed during the upcoming winter months, according to farm co-owner Mike Ziemba.
That leaves the family with some "hard choices," he said.
In the short-term, they'll need to decide how to shelter the 275 dairy cows when winter rolls in. They'll also have to replace the winter feed supply.
But it's a hard place to be, and if one of any of the details doesn't work right, and they're facing the winter with no shelter for the herd, Ziemba said they'd have to sell the cows, ship them away and shut down the farm.
A lot depends on the insurance claim, Ziemba said. But the timing of the insurance could be crucial because it will influence how they'll approach the shelter issue — whether they build a temporary shelter before the winter, or whether they'll have the time and funding to install a permanent structure.
"So right now, we have no shelter and we're feeding them outside," Ziemba said. "Shelter is the big thing. We have to find them shelter."
In milder weather, the cows don't mind being outside, he said, though they do seek shelter from rain, wind, snow and cold temperatures.
"The only other alternative is to ship the cows out and call it a day," Ziemba said, adding that this dairy farm — one of the few remaining in Berkshire County — has been in the family for generations. More than a dozen family members actively help in the farm's operations.
"This is one of the last dairy farms around — it would be a shame to lose it, so that's why we're working so hard to make this work," Ziemba said.
Longer term, the Ziemba clan will have to replace the bull as well, and re-assemble a feeder station for the cattle. For now, the cows are fed with hay stations in the pasture.
When the fire broke out, Ziemba said, first responding police officers and family members ran into the burning barn and chased out the cows that were lounging inside.
The bull had been in a stable closer to the source of the fire, so he couldn't be saved.
"They ran in and chased them all out," Ziemba said. "We think all the cows made it out, but we lost the bull and a tractor."
The barn and everything remaining inside, including 800 bales of hay, were lost to the blaze. But they were close to losing the milking house too, which would have hurt the operation even more.
"When we first got there, the barn was fully involved, and they had chased the cows out of the barn so we concentrated on the milking house. It had started burning, too," noted Adams Fire Chief John Pansecchi. "We saved that building, so that's a good thing."
During the fire, 11 nearby fire departments responded to the call for mutual aid, Pansecchi said. Responding to the scene were fire fighters and apparatus from Adams, Adams Forest Wardens, North Adams, Clarksburg, Stamford, Vt., Florida, Cheshire, Savoy, Lanesborough, Dalton, and Windsor. Adams Ambulance and Northern Berkshire EMS were also on hand.
Pansecchi said there were 75 to 100 firefighters on the scene with about 18 fire trucks. They stayed on the job after the 2 a.m. call Sunday morning until about 5 p.m. that afternoon. On Monday, the Savoy Forest Warden had people on hand in case the hay bales flared up again.
He noted that the cause of the fire is still undetermined, but an electrical malfunction is suspected.
"It was a long day for everyone, and I can't explain my thanks to all those departments for their help," Pansecchi said.
In the aftermath of the blaze, the Ziembas had to re-arrange the feeding and milking procedure for the cattle, start to clean up the debris, and try to catch up with the harvest schedule for the corn crop.
During and after the fire, community members have been coming by offering assistance, food and other supplies to support the family and the farm.
On Monday, friends and supporters showed up with sandwiches, bottled water and coffee. A charity spaghetti dinner has already been arranged for 4:30 to 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Bounti-Fare Restaurant at 200 Howland Ave. in Adams.
"The community has been really good to us," Ziemba said. "We've gotten a lot of support and we are very grateful for that."
Scott Stafford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-629-4517.