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Markus family thankful for blessings in disguise

Karen Lee Published on 26 September 2014
Open house at Markvale Holsteins

Imagine being awoken by a pounding at the front door. As you see an orange glow outside, your first thought is your son trying to wake you at sunrise. You most likely overslept since you were up until midnight checking on a cow in the barn.

As you gather your senses, you realize you are faced with a very different and much worse scenario. The man at the door is a truck driver who was passing by on the nearby highway. He had pulled over, jumped the fence and run to your door at 2 a.m. to notify you that your main cattle barns were engulfed in flames.

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In this moment, how would you react? Would you panic? Would you collapse to the ground weighed down by the devastating loss before your eyes? Or would you give thanks to God for keeping your family safe and showing you a path for the future?

When faced with this scenario in the early hours of July 22, 2013, Clarence and Wendy Markus chose their faith above all else as 75 firefighters battled the fire that destroyed their 100-cow herd, tiestall milking barn and feed storage.

“The minute I saw it, I knew it would be a blessing. God works everything out for the good,” Clarence says.

Markus Family

Their youngest son, Mark, had been farming with them, and this would provide greater opportunities for the future.

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“There was never a question if we would rebuild. My family was there, and I knew everyone wanted to milk cows,” he says.

The planning phase moved quickly. Mark, along with his brothers, Gary and Darryl, all had experience working in different dairy facilities.

Clarence had no problem letting the next generation take the lead on building decisions. “I’m a delegator. If I have faith and trust in those around me, I delegate like crazy,” he says.

Their goals for the new facility included cow comfort, good lighting, good traction and people-friendly.

The four-row freestall barn has 154 stalls for milking cows, which are split into three groups – 2-year-olds, mature cows and a special pen with larger stalls just outside the office to hold up to 14 of the herd’s best animals.

The barn also houses heifers, from 6 months old to calving. A 150-by-30-foot cardboard-bedded pack in the barn is split into two dry-cow groups – first-time calvers and mature cows.

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There is a double-10 milking parlour capable of expanding to a double-14. They could easily milk up to 300 cows in the event supply management would no longer be present. Meanwhile, they are slowly growing and purchasing quota as it becomes available.

They wanted to create an open-concept facility, to have the barn feel welcoming and a place where people (and cows) would want to be. The barn office is placed to view the entire barn from that location.

LED lights keep the barn bright along with a dome that runs the length of the barn to let in sunlight. Sort gates are prevalent throughout the barn. They opted for rollover or flip gates to make it easy and convenient to section off cows for bedding or other tasks.

There is very little automation in the barn, with the exception of an automatic feed pusher and automatic manure scrapers. The scrapers feed into a box scraper that flows into a concrete manure tank behind the barn, which is capable of holding up to a year’s supply of manure.

A new feed facility at the south end of the barn was built with the option of an automatic feeding system in mind, but for now they are using a pull-type mixer to feed the herd.

With their previous feed storage lost in the fire, they also built five bunker silos – three for corn silage and two for haylage – three 40-ton bulk bins. They added a concrete apron from the barn to the bunker silos, providing a lot of room to maneuver equipment.

Clarence concedes that without adequate insurance, they wouldn’t have been able to do some of the extra items.

Looking back over the past year, he says his family has been truly blessed with the experience.

“You always hear the negative in these situations, but we’ve experienced so much good from all over,” he says.

“We received support from so many people across this country, North America and even Europe. The love and concern expressed through phone calls and visits was unbelievable.”

One particular gesture came late last September when Harold and Diane Patterson and their son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Penny, stopped by the farm wondering if the Markuses would be interested in buying their herd of Holstein cattle.

“We had a two-time Master Breeder herd, and thanks to them we have another one back,” Clarence says.

Plus, the Pattersons were willing to milk their herd until the Markuses’ building project was complete.

Gary and Darryl, along with another neighbour, graciously milked cows the Markuses purchased along the way, as well as animals that calved out during the year.

With approval from Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Clarence was able to lease portions of his quota to them.“We understand how everything comes together and led us to this point,” Clarence says. “The seeds we had sown have now come back a hundredfold. We have been forever humbled.”

To express their gratitude, the Markus family hosted an open-house event at their new farm, one year to the date of the fire.

It was meant to be a day of Thanksgiving. Mark Wescott with Dairy Lane Systems, who assisted in planning the open house, says, “Clarence really stressed it was a time for rejoicing and to show their gratitude and appreciation.”

Mark Wescott was one of the many people touched by how Clarence conducted himself throughout the year. “From the beginning with the fire until now, his faith was strong. Just to see that encouraged me,” he says. “They impacted more people than they probably realized.”

More than 2,000 people attended the event that lasted most of the day. The family was surrounded by their friends, neighbours, community members and members of their church.

It was also a welcome sight to see many of the people who helped them along the way, from the truck driver that alerted them and the police and fire first responders to the building contractors and insurance representatives.

Through it all, Clarence says he learned very quickly how a positive attitude and a thanksgiving to God brings people to you. “God was using us to let his light shine,” he says.

This experience also brought a close family even closer together. “For the rest of our lives, we will always be intertwined with how we handled this experience,” Clarence says. “I could have gotten angry or bitter, but what leadership would that have been?”

“It has been a wonderful, blessed experience,” he adds. “So much good came from it. I had thought that right away, but I had no idea of the extent.”

For instance, they lost a herd of cows but gained a herd that was as good or better. The neighbour wanted to sell their land and now two-thirds of their manure tank sits on that land. And, a new facility created a better opportunity for future generations.

In addition, their son-in-law, Mike, was able to start a new profession. He was a journeyman electrician and part-time excavator before the fire, but after doing the excavating work for this building project, he now has his own excavating business.

As the flames reached into the sky that early morning, not everyone would have chosen the same path as Clarence and Wendy. By trusting their faith in God, the Markus family knew they wouldn’t make their journey alone. Yet they never anticipated the countless blessings and the number of people that would join them along the way.  PD

PHOTOS
TOP PHOTO: Thousands of visitors attended a day-long open house at Markvale Holsteins’ new facility exactly one year after a fire claimed the farm’s milking barn and herd of cows. Photo by Mark Wescott of Dairy Lane Systems.

BOTTOM PHOTO:Wendy and Clarence Markus (left) with their children (left to right), Mark and Willeke, Michelle and Mike, Darryl and Sarah, Gary and Hillary, and their grandchildren. Photo courtesy of the Markus family.

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