Community initiatives rise from the ashes of Hilbert barn fire.

This New Year will mark the two-year anniversary of the day that redefined the Kesler’s small family farm in Hilbert. On January 1, 2018, an electrical fire unexpectedly engulfed their two-story barn. They were able to save the livestock, but the farm’s largest and most treasured structure—home to 65 animals overall—was a total loss.

Bob Kesler, along with his wife Lucy, own and operate Kesler Family Farms. Bob drives a commercial dump truck by day and the team cares for the farm in their spare time. They now had a big decision to make. Accept the misfortune and abandon their farming endeavors? Or rebuild in the midst of Wisconsin’s largest small-farm crisis? “We knew it had to be a family decision,” Kesler recalls. “We sat the kids down and asked if they wanted to let it go, or if they wanted to keep the farm going.”

The kids said they’d keep it up. Bob and Lucy had even more in mind. They saw an opportunity to rebuild the barn and their plans for retirement. But first, they needed to start with plans for a new—yet more versatile—structure. “I had heard about Fox Structures from my neighbor. He had worked with them.”

Enter local agricultural and commercial builder Fox Structures. “We met with Fox Structures and we liked how they laid things out,” Kesler said. Within a year, Fox Structures helped the Kesler family rebuild with a beautiful Amish-style barn. “Fox Structures made suggestions such as the exterior cross bucks, spancrete ceilings and portable livestock pens that helped to take the barn to the next level,” Bob shared. The old-fashioned, two-story barn features a hay loft, interior office, wrap-around porch, plus plenty of space for tours and local 4-H events.

The Keslers have always been involved with the local farming community. Generations of their family have shown animals in 4-H and the Calumet County Fair. Bob has served as Calumet Market County President, they’ve both been 4-H resource leaders, and participated in Fond du Lac and Calumet county’s Farm to Fork tours. They actively work with the Wisconsin Cattleman’s Association and have participated in Farm Technology Days for more than 18 years. Now, they want to bring farming education to others in the community and they had the perfect space to do it.

“It turned out great to handle the animals – really panned out,” Bob said. While Bob says they’re still getting their herd together, they have a variety of animals. Fifty to sixty beef cattle, some mini horses, donkeys, llamas, rabbits, chickens, peacocks and hogs. “It’s open 24/7 for people to see,” Bab said. Right now, their local 4-H groups are taking the most advantage of the space, but Bob hopes to expand community interest. “We’re hoping to invite schools out in our retirement. Elementary-age kids. It’s so important they learn about farming and where food comes from.”

Until then, Bob, Lucy and their family will continue making plans. “We will be continuing on and we’ll get back into it. It will take time to get back on our feet,” he said. And thanks to Fox Structures, they have a great place to start.