Alamance dairy farmer Randy Lewis, who is renowned for putting on barn dances, is recovering after being severely injured by one of his animals. And he’s being aided by hundreds of volunteers.

The Ran-Lew Dairy in southern Alamance County, about a mile down a country road linking Greensboro to Chapel Hill, has a small milking room with gray walls and a trough running through it. 

“You want to know what a cutting-edge milk barn looked like in 1960? This is it,” Lewis says. “But … this is 60 years past its prime.”

Lewis is the fifth generation of his family to work this land. His grandparents started the dairy, and he began milking cows as a young boy.

Back then, Lewis says, dairy farms were common in the area. Now, his is one of the last. Trends in the milk business in recent decades favored large, efficient farms over smaller ones like his.

There were times when he made so little money that he wasn’t sure he could go on. But about 10 years ago Lewis got a small grant to start bottling his own product, and that has provided enough means to hang on.

“I wasn’t cut out to be no banker,” he says. “I like it here. I like being in the country.”

There’s a hay loft on the second floor above the milking room. This is where Lewis’ other passion takes place: barn dancing. 

Folks from across the region come here a couple of times a year to listen to music and dance. Lewis says some have been coming for 40 years now. The event became the subject of a 2014 documentary short, The Last Barn Dance.

Lewis hopes the dancing can go on, but he’s not sure what his body will allow him to do. Earlier this year Lewis was charged by one of his bulls. The injuries may limit what he can do on the farm, and at the barn dances.

“I’d rather dance than eat when I’m hungry,” he says. “The thought of that being over with bothers me. Even if I can’t dance I like to listen to music and watch people and that’d be one thing I hope we can carry ‘til — ‘til I ain’t here. And then anyone’s here left can do it if they will. I’d be happy about it.” 

Lewis says on May 7, he went out to a pasture behind the barn to check on a bull and a cow. He says the bull got closer to him than he thought. “The way he presented himself, I knew he was not playing,” he says.

He had to get something between himself and the bull very quickly. “I was standing close enough to get to a gate.” He tried not to break eye contact with the bull, but he didn’t want to miss the gate when he reached for it.

“And he was particularly opportunistic because I was reaching for the gate and stepping up,” Lewis says. “He had two seconds, or three seconds.”

The next thing Lewis knew he was airborne and looking straight into the sky.

“And when I came down I landed right across that bull’s head.” 

The bull wedged himself under Lewis’ armpit and pushed him across the ground, pinning him against a fence post.

“And he just pushed ‘til he got tired of pushing.”

Lewis was able to crawl under the gate. He still had his cell phone on him. His emergency call reached a fire station not far away. The first responder was a friend who assured him he wouldn’t die.

Lewis would spend the next 26 days in the hospital.

The job of running the farm in his absence fell to Taylor Hayes, the chief operating officer of the dairy. She says the attack changed everything.

“My boss and friend was not around, which was pretty brutal the first little bit,” she says. “And Randy just has such expertise and knowledge in so many areas, that it was a very steep learning curve.”

Word about Lewis’ injuries quickly got around to the farming community and his neighbors. And just like with the barn dances, people came together. In even bigger numbers, Hayes says. “And it was so moving, how many people — just like whether they knew Randy or didn't know Randy. And they showed up to help and to me, was such a statement about the impact both Randy himself, this farm, and agriculture have on people that they were so moved to come help.”

About 400 people from as far away as Morganton have pitched in, and more are signing up every week. They do everything from small jobs like putting labels on milk jugs to clearing out land to make room for a new yogurt plant.

On a recent Saturday, a group of more than a dozen gathered to help with chores. One of them was Charlie Ansell. He traveled from Kimesville near the Alamance-Guilford line to help install shelves in an equipment room.

Ansell, who is also a farmer, says pitching in gives him a great deal of satisfaction.

“The encouraging thing is that most of the farmers that I know are, you know, 80 years old or more,” Ansell says. “There are a lot of young people here. I have a hat that says ‘No farms, no food.’ And I believe, I believe in that. So I'm just absolutely elated when I see young people.”

Lewis, who is proud of his independent nature, says the bull attack left him feeling as helpless as he’s felt since childhood. He has put his faith in the volunteers because he’s not able to do the work that was needed.

“All I can do is tell anybody ‘thank you,’” he says. “And I mean it from the bottom of my heart because it was those people who gave me a life to come back to. And how can you repay that?”

Alamance is one of the fastest-growing counties in the region, and North Carolina has been losing farmland like this for years. 

Lewis doesn’t have children to pass the dairy on to. But he wants it to stay farmland for as long as possible. He’s signed an easement to the Piedmont Land Conservancy so that 90 acres of this farmland will remain as it is after he’s gone.


  • image shows volunteers

    Volunteers clear out a building on Randy Lewis' farm to prepare for it to be torn down. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

  • Image shows volunteer building shelves

    Volunteer Charlie Ansell moves a board as he prepares to build shelves in a storage area. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

  • Image shows the hay loft in the barn

    The barn where Randy Lewis has hosted barn dances for decades. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

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