August 2013 — On a hot July afternoon Karen Zabel pauses from her daily chores to look over the site where a freestall barn will stand in a matter of weeks. The site was a pasture before excavators hauled and leveled fill to make way for the new three-row, 11,696-square-foot structure. The barn will stand next to existing buildings in a triangular area between The Great River Ridge State Trail, Minnesota Highway 42 and 530th Street. Just east of the site, land slopes toward a culvert where water drains under MN Highway 42 to a flowage that feeds the North Fork of the Whitewater River. New storage containment will keep manure out of the rain, simplify some routine tasks, and greatly reduce the likelihood of runoff.
The tight space available to the Zabels made siting the barn a challenge. They were creative and worked with Wabasha County, Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, excavator Bennett & Sons, and builder KBS Companies to develop a plan that respects easements related to waterways, the trail, and roads.
Lynn and Karen made the decision to build the barn when son, Elliott, made it clear he’ll farm the family’s home place. “We all have a story,” says Karen, “and my husband’s is tied to this place.” Elliott’s, it seems, is, too. And Karen, who came to Minnesota from Toronto years ago, can’t imagine living anywhere else.
The Zabel family’s commitment and kind regard for each other exist alongside a strong work ethic and disciplines on the farm. Everything has its place. Equipment is well-kept. An agronimist is part of the team, soil is sampled, and fertilizer application is monitored because water quality is a priority. The Zabels carefully research and make thoughtful business decisions, and this barn is no exception. It will benefit the family—and people downstream—for a long time.
3 Tips For Farm Construction
1) Expect the unexpected. Plan well in advance to allow time for project approvals.
2) When building a structure for cattle, carefully consider options for herd care, manure management and runoff during construction.
3) Choose construction partners with whom you have good relationships and mutual respect.
Intelligent planning, love for their home place, and a desire to evolve their farm for son Elliott inspired the Zabels to take a big step forward at a time when they could step back. The new freestall barn for their dairy herd is designed to benefit their family, their herd and people downstream.