Harsh winter weather with heavy amounts of snow and strong winds have been causing problems for dairy farmers across the country. Storms in the Wisconsin, New York and Washington state will end up costing dairies millions. Washington state dairies have suffered the worst of it- more than 1,800 cows were lost.
Washington dairies have experienced some of the worst damage from the winter storms. Dairy Business published an Associated Press article titled, “Dairy farms take $4M hit from cows lost in blizzard.” More than 1,800 cows perished during a blizzard earlier in February. Even before you factor in the losses from lost milk production, multiple dairy operations in Washington state have claimed losses totaling $4 million.
Seven separate dairies have given notices of loss to their local Farm Service Agency in Yakima. More filings are anticipated. The indemnity program will pay out at 75% of market value.
In the Yakima Valley near Sunnyside, Washington it’s reported that 15 different farms lost cows. One farm has reported losing 600 cows because of the February 9 storm. Washington governor Jay Inslee set aside $100,000 this week to assist with the costs of transporting the dead animals to a nearby landfill.
Snow and Wind- A Deadly Combination in the Yakima Valley
Thomas Clouse of The Spokesman-Review reports that most of the cattle losses occurred in the Yakima Valley. A winter storm had been predicted to hit, but the area received higher winds and heavier snow amounts than what was expected. The Yakima Valley is a place that’s somewhat accustomed to winter weather and snow. But dairy owner Jason Sheehan says that this storm was unusual.
“In all my years, I’ve never been a part of a blizzard like this,” he said. “In Yakima Valley, we’ve gotten snow and wind. But I’ve never seen wind sustained for this amount of time and this sheer amount of snow.”
Gusts of wind with the storm exceeded 80 mph and dumped nearly two feet of snow.
“The snow and wind started at about 7 a.m. By 9 a.m., we had 8 or 9 inches and sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph,” Sheehan said. “It didn’t matter what we did to try to keep the cows from harming themselves. But we just couldn’t do it.”
Cattle Wouldn’t Spread Out
The wind and snow combination proved deadly. The cows pressed into the corners of the pens to keep their backs to the wind to find relief from the elements. The efforts to spread the cattle out made by Sheehan’s team just weren’t successful.
“People need to understand that we and our employees did everything possible,” Sheehan said. “An unbelievable effort was put in, but Mother Nature just kicked our butts.”
“We hate to see any cow die. I’ve got a tremendous group of people I work with out here. Everybody was putting in everything we had to take care of these cows. Physically, mentally and emotionally, we are all exhausted.”
Chelsi Riordan, spokeswoman for Dairy Farmers of Washington said,
“Farmers are still assessing the damage and helping each other,” Riordan said. “I’ve heard of losses from storms, but nothing of this caliber in one event in the state of Washington. It’s really unprecedented.”
Moving to the East, winter storms in Wisconsin have also caused problems for dairy farmers. Taylor Leach of Dairy Herd reported that several barns collapsed in Wisconsin due to the heavy snow. Earlier this week, more than 20 counties in Wisconsin had a blizzard warning. There was blowing snow, whiteout conditions and widespread power outages. Not to mention heavy amount of falling snow- almost a foot of it accumulated. In some areas, wind gusts exceeded 55 mph.
Dutch Dairy LLC, in Thorp experienced the worst of it. Amy Penterman sent out an SOS via Facebook when she realized that a portion of their barn roof had collapsed onto some of their dairy cows.
Sos anyone by us please come help, our roof collapsed on our milk cows….Dutch Dairy Thorp..please be safe and dont take unnecessary travels.
Fortunately, Dutch Dairy avoided major tragedy. Only three cows suffered minor injuries, and no people were harmed.
Grateful, thankful, humbled, so many words to express how we feel right now. We have been diligently watching our barns…
Eau Claire, WI
Eau Claire’s Huntsinger Farm Inc. also had structural damage to one of their barns due to the heavy snow. The roof of the 184-foot barn collapsed onto tractors and other harvesting equipment.
“It’s an expense we don’t look forward to,” said Farm manager Ken Traaseth in an interview with WEAU News. “I mean insurance is not going to cover 100% of it either the equipment, or the tractors, the building either way we still have to come up with the money to foot the bill.”
Traaseth says most of the equipment is still usable.
“I think most of it is salvageable. We’ve got a truck in there that’s got some roof damage on it. A tractor that’s got some roof damage, but I think with some tender loving care we’ll get it back up and running again,” Traaseth said.
Many farms in New York state were not spared from winter’s wrath. Pushlar Farms in Cazenovia lost the roof off their cow barn in 50 mph winds. The sides of the freestall barn were bent as were the trusses on the structure. Fortunately, no employees or animals were harmed.
Watch Snow Accumulations on Buildings
In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR), Brian Holmes, a retired agricultural engineer for the University of Wisconsin-Extension provides some useful tips when it comes to snow’s impact on farm structures. He says that often times the barns that hold cows tend to be older and are somewhat moist environments. These two factors usually don’t bode well for the structure of the buildings.
Snow with different moisture contents have have very different effects. Fluffy snow is very light, and can weigh as little as 3 lbs per square foot. Wet snow is heavy, and can weigh 21 lbs per square foot. Ice is even heavier and can weigh as much as 57 lbs per square foot. It’s something to keep an eye on as we move into spring with the potential for more snow, and as built up snow on roofs melts.
Be mindful of snow and ice accumulations on your buildings. Heavy snow and strong winds can be a deadly combination for dairy operations with older buildings. But sometimes, there’s just not much you can do. We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. Hopefully, as the season begins to shift into spring, the worst of her winter wrath is over.
Don’t miss out on Ag Nook’s related dairy article titled, “Too Little, Too Late for the Diary Industry“.