2011-10-06 / Local & State

Silo Collapse Brings Pa. Community Farmer’s Aid

By Richard Robbins

MAMMOTH, Pa. (AP) – The Hutter dairy farm in Mount Pleasant Township presented an extraordinary scene on Wednesday: Scores of local farm families pitching in to help the family recover from the collapse of a feed silo the day before.

“The turnout is not surprising,” said Nevada Hutter, sorting through donated cookies and cakes and such. “It's what we do for one another. We stick together.”

Earlier, Nevada’s husband, Blaine, 63, working with just two hours sleep, said he knew some of the men and women who dropped by the farm on Kecksburg Road between Kecksburg and Norvelt to lend a hand. Many were friends and neighbors, he said. “Others, I don’t know who they are.

“A couple of them were here last night late and then showed up this morning at 5 a.m.,” he said. “Farmers take care of their own. It's just the way it is.”

The silo containing 630 tons of corn silage began leaning Tuesday afternoon. It will likely take days, perhaps weeks, to get everything in order. The work involves moving the feed corn – which previously was ground into pieces almost as fine as sawdust – a distance of about 90 feet to two horizontal piles.

Wednesday afternoon, the silage that had been moved by front-loaders was being tamped by heavy farm tractors.

The goal was twofold: to squeeze as much moisture from the feed as possible and to get all 630 tons under heavy protective covers before spoilage sets in. Open air can cause the silage to grow mold, which cows will not, and should not, eat.

Time, it seemed, was of the essence.

The collapsed silo was one of four that stood side by side. Silos 2 and 3 were damaged by the collapse and may need to be razed. A fourth silo, the tallest of the lot at 80 feet high, might also have to come down.

In this worst-case scenario, several hundred more tons of both corn silage and hay silage could face damaging exposure.

Yesterday, Blaine Hutter said he was hoping as much as 500 tons of feed could be saved for his 100 milking cows and 100 calves. He did not express undue alarm for his dairy herd, which was put off schedule by the sudden turn of events and suffered a 50 percent drop in production.

Hutter said the production would rebound. However, the loss of too much feed might result in his having to cull some of his stock.

Just why the Hutter silo collapsed remained something of a mystery. The concrete structure, ringed by steel bands, began to buckle about 3 p.m. Tuesday. At the time, Blaine Hutter's nephew, Aaron Hutter, was working near the top of the structure and managed to get to safety.

The silo came down in stages in what eyewitnesses said was an agonizingly slow process of disintegration. The silo fell completely to earth late Tuesday night, collapsing partially into a barn.

Feed silos, Blaine Hutter said, are expected to “last a lifetime. We really don't know what happened to this one.”

Meanwhile, the Hutter farm was overrun with neighbors and fellow farmers like George Overly busy on their front loaders, pushing time and time again against a high mound of silage. Overly said Wednesday only a third of the feed had been cleared out. For Overly, at a half-ton a scoop, the work was slow-going.

It was hard, dirty work, too. Alyn Hutter, another nephew, and friend Chris Kmetz were required at one point to climb to the top of the heap to cut away some steel bands and throw large chunks of concrete from the collapsed silo into a frontloader bucket. A good 30 minutes passed before the parade of front loaders was able to resume.

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