Fire extinguished. Help, hope ignited.

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2013 Photo: Chuck and Vanessa Worden

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, Jan. 20, 2017

CASSVILLE, N.Y. — On Saturday evening, January 14, the entire Worden family was together at the dining room table celebrating Chuck and Vanessa’s birthdays, including daughter Lindsey who was home visiting from Vermont.

By daybreak Sunday, the family was facing an uncertain future, but was lifted forward by friends and neighbors showing up when news spread quickly of the fire at Wormont Dairy, Cassville, New York.

“I had just walked through the cows and done a little clipping that night, so proud of how the whole herd looked and how well they were responding to the changes we had been making in the ration and fresh cow protocols,” Lindsey Worden reflected. “Less than four hours later, I was calling 911.”

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Photo from Kate Worden

Wayne and Mark Worden, who live off the farm but nearby, were throwing on clothes to come down and join their father Chuck and brother Eric in rescuing calves and heifers penned in the box stall barn adjoining their parlor/holding area and office, which was totally engulfed in flames.

Their mother Vanessa had gotten up in the middle of the night and saw the flames from the window.

“Just as Eric was carrying out the last calf, the fire trucks arrived and the barn was totally filled with smoke and starting to catch fire as well,” Lindsey reported. “Volunteer firefighters, friends and neighbors were pouring in. We managed to wrangle all the baby calves and young heifers into a bay of our machine shed, and got the older show heifers into our heifer freestall, while dad and the boys were helping the firefighters.”

Amazingly, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction of its usual course – sparing the main freestall barn and Wormont Dairy’s 270 milking cows from damage.

By 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning, “It was quiet,” Lindsey shares. “At daybreak we met to try and figure out a game plan for how to get 275 cows milked on a farm with no milking equipment.”

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Photo provided by Lindsey Worden

Not one person or animal was harmed, and the family was so thankful, but reality was sinking in. Now what?

“It was amazing,” said Vanessa. “There are no words for the way people just showed up and lifted us up.”

Chuck said a neighbor started the ball rolling to place the cows, and people came with trucks and trailers lining the farm lane. “I didn’t make one call, people just came,” he said.

As Wayne and Mark noted, “It was humbling.”

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Photo provided by Lindsey Worden

Before long, with the help of some awesome neighbors, the Wordens had figured out two farms that could take the majority of their milking cows (heifers and dry cows are staying), and a short while later, cattle trailers started showing up, as did more friends and neighbors to help get them loaded.

“At one point, we had at least 10 cattle trailers lined up out the driveway, and we got animals relocated more efficiently than I would have ever imagined possible,” Lindsey reflects. “We are so thankful to the friends and first responders who showed up at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning to help get our immediate emergency under control.”

Friends and neighbors came from near and far – bringing trailers, helping to get cattle loaded and moved, helping to get scared cows milked off site.

“People brought enough food to feed an army for a week,” said Vanessa.

“At 7 a.m., my first thought is that we were probably just have to sell everything, but then as neighbors showed up, and connections were made, and trucks started moving cows, you start to feel how hope can change the whole outlook,” said Vanessa. “By 3:00 p.m., our friends and neighbors had given us hope that we can do this. I was actually happy yesterday. There is no way I could be sad after all that everyone has done, after all the hope they have given us.”

Each member of the family has so much gratitude for the dairies that opened their barns and took in cows. The 270 cows were moved to three locations by 3 p.m. Sunday.

“What an incredibly humbling day,” Wayne shared Sunday evening. “There are no words to describe the support we received and are still receiving with the cows. Thank you is not enough to say about what we were all able to accomplish today. What an incredible community the dairy industry is.”

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2013 photo Wayne, Mark, Eric and Chuck Worden

Electricians worked all day Sunday to restore power – light, heat and water. “And companies worked with us quickly to help us with things like restoring our DairyComp records on a new computer, getting basic medical and breeding supplies and all those little things that we need to keep the wheels on the bus this week,” Lindsey observes. “It is a really strange feeling to literally have none of those everyday supplies like calf bottles, navel dip, ear tags, IV kits, etc.

Everyone who reached out with suggestions for help or just kind words, prayers and encouragement, by call, text message, email, and facebook, or dropping by in person. We are so very grateful.”

Eric shared how “truly overwhelmed” he was by the amount of support received from farmers across the state following the fire. “Thank you for making the day go easier,” he said. “This is a tough blow for my family, but we will come back stronger than ever.”

Adds Lindsey, “By some miracle, not a single animal was lost, not even our lone barn cat!”

While there is no question, “we’ve got a tough road to hoe to get back on our feet over the next several months,” said Lindsey, “with some luck and the attitude everyone in the family has maintained over the last two days, I have no question we will come out on the other side.”

“Words cannot express how thankful we are,” Vanessa said. “The way people reached out to us in those early hours gave us hope. Hope is an important thing. It’s what we give each other, and it is amazing.”

As the family meets with insurance adjusters, lenders, builders, equipment specialists and others to chart a course for moving forward, the ready support of others in the darkest hour serves as a continual reminder of what the dairy community is made of – people who keep putting one foot in front of the other and helping their fellow producers get through times like this.

Even more importantly, the family notes that this dairy community is quick to give each other hope — that they’re not alone when confronted with a life-changing event — that when it seems everything is coming to a halt, it is the hope brought by others that carries everyone forward.

Crews from six fire departments responded to the fire at Wormont in the wee hours of Sunday morning, January 15, with others on standby.

Cleanup continues as the family pulls together to make decisions for the future – a future that they say reinforces how special the dairy industry is and how humbled they are to be part of it.

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Aug. 2016 Eric, Lindsey and Chuck at county fair

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2013 photo Wormont Dairy

‘Bred-and-owned’ declared best of best at 50th WDE

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Oct. 14, 2016 (Photos by author except where noted)

MADISON, Wis. — As the World Dairy Expo celebrated 50 years earlier this month, nostalgia could be found both in and out of the showring. For starters, the five days of shows for seven breeds yielded grand champions that were predominantly bred-and-owned, many with their breeder-owners at the halter.

In fact, six of seven open grands and four of seven junior grands were bred and owned. Let’s take them in alphabetical breed order!

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Throughout the week, judges recognized how difficult it is to get to this show and win, and even more so to breed the animal and get her here and win. Exhibitors, judges and breeders, alike, point out in their own way that there is as much art as there is science to breeding a top cow… but also a bit of luck.

Take for example, the grand champion of the International Ayrshire Show: Margot Patagonie was bred, owned and exhibited by Expo first-timer Ferme Margot of Ste Perpétue, Quebec, Canada.

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The striking thing about this grand champion is that not only did Ferme Margot breed the winning cow, they also bred her dam and her sire! What an achievement for the visiting World Ayrshire Conference to witness during their time in Madison, where they also saw the Expo’s largest Ayrshire show ever, with 321 entries, reportedly 60 more entries than the previous record.

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In the junior Ayrshire competition, Erin Curtis-Szalach of Cedarcut Farms, Cazenovia, New York, knabbed grand champion honors for the second straight year with her bred-and-owned Cedarcut Burdette Clove Colatta.

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She also made a strong honorable mention grand champion and total performance winning in the Open Show where entries were up by 60.

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In the Brown Swiss competition, which also topped previous records with 385 entries, both grand champions were repeat show-toppers as well as bred-and-owned with owners at the halter.

DayThree2107.jpgBrown Heaven Glenn Fantasy topped the open show with Josee Charron from Ferme Brown Heaven, Vercheres, Quebec at the halter.

DayFive3491.jpgKyle Barton, grandson of Ken Main of Elite Dairy, Copake, New York, earned the grand champion banner in junior competition for the second year with homebred Cutting Edge T Delilah (below).

wJrBrownSwiss3096w.jpgShe went on to be reserve supreme of the Junior Show, and she was reserve grand champion of the open Brown Swiss Show, second only to Fantasy (above).

day-2-12.JPGKyle and his older brother Mickey have done quite well over the years and their grandfather is pleased that they enjoy the cattle among their other activities.

day-5-69.JPGAmong the Guernseys, it was bred-and-owned Flambeau Manor Ro Lauren-ET to go grand in the Open Show. With Tracy Mitchell again at the halter, Lauren repeated her 2014 performance as grand champion for Gary and Steve Van Doorn of Flambeau Manor, Tony, Wisconsin.

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day-5-88.JPGAmong the juniors, Austin and Landen Knapp of Epworth, Iowa threepeated with the homebred Knapps Regis Tambourine-ET. The Knapps are premier breeders.

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day-5-75.JPGA large field of Holsteins narrowed down to grand champion Sheeknoll Durham Arrow. She impressed judge Pat Conroy as a cow that “lets you know she does not need to be pampered.” With Jeannette Sheehan at the halter, the aged cow moved through the ranks to achieve a storybook ending for her leadswoman, whose father Vernon Hupf — a lifelong farmer who attended every World Dairy Expo but this one as a spectator — had passed away in June.

“To win the show that Dad idolized is just amazing,” said Jeannette after “Thomas” (as the cow is affectionately known to all after a grandson dubbed her as a calf in honor of Thomas the Train) went reserve supreme of the International Open Shows Saturday night.

DayFive3589.jpg“Each time the judge picked her out, I was surprised, but I didn’t have time to process what was happening. I was pretty much just trying to hang on to the cow. At one point it just felt like Dad was here, on my shoulder telling me what to do, right down to that look out of the corner of the eye.”

day-5-58Not only did the Sheehan family have a winner, they did so with a bred and owned animal in a highly competitive Holstein show. “We are still a little stunned. You don’t come here with expectations because this show will humble you in a hurry,” Jeannette’s husband Robert added just after her reserve supreme honors were awarded Saturday evening. “The whole thing is unbelievable. We like to breed  nice cows, the kind of cows we like to milk. Breeding is science and art with luck involved. The match has to work and every once in a while you get a cow like this.”

Thomas has shown a lot in the last 4 to 5 years. “This year she blossomed and matured into the kind of cow we thought she could be.” he added.

Robert and his brothers Jim and Jerome and their wives Karen, Mary and Jeannette are partners at Sheeknoll Farms, with the next generation also involved. They milk 300 cows at the farm in Rochester, Minnesota, and are known by their peers to treat them all like queens with great cow comfort and attention to detail. In fact, the mantra on their Facebook page says it all: “If we take care of the cows, they will take care of us.” They were thankful for the total team effort taking care of the EX 96 97MS Thomas in her grand journey to this surreal finish.

day-5-59.JPGSheeknoll Durham Arrow (aka Thomas) had an exciting path to her grand champion honors at the 50th World Dairy Expo, having won the 2016 Minnesota State Fair and other shows leading up to it.

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Photo courtesy Randy Blodgett, Blodgett Communications

The Sheehan family, friends and Thomas’ fans watched as judge Pat Conroy and his associate Yan Jacobs placed Thomas first aged cow, best bred-and-owned, best udder, production cow, senior and grand champion, over a competitive field including last year’s supreme champion Katrysha and over this year’s reserve and honorable mention grand champions, the latter exhibited by Glamourview Farms of Walkersville, Maryland.

jerseyjuniorbo1164In the junior Jersey competition it was Cora and Cari of Darlington, Wisconsin. The homebred Red Rock View Cari was the grand champion Jersey of the Junior Show, with Cora Carpenter at the halter.

day-5-78.JPGThe Carpenter family was overjoyed to see their daughter and homebred Jersey do so well.

Earlier in the week, the grand champion Milking Shorthorn of the open show was Cates Ruben Tulsa-Time-EXP, bred, owned and exhibited by Peter Cate of Cornish Flats, New Hampshire for the second straight year.

day-5-91.JPGThe Milking Shorthorn Show at World Dairy Expo has grown and lasted into Wednesday evening, but was quite exciting.

day-2-70.JPGIn the International Red & White show, Pheasant Echo’s Turvy-Red-ET was grand champion with breeder-owner Kenny Stambaugh, Westminster, Maryland, at the halter.

day-5-93When Kenny Stambaugh’s homebred Turvy was named grand champion of the International Red & White Show on Friday, his sister Crystal Edwards was there in person to celebrate. Most of the rest of the family could probably be heard hooting-and-hollering over a thousand miles away in Westminster, Maryland as they gathered around the television to watch Kenny show and be victorious in the online live-feed of the showring proceedings.

What they did next, as you might imagine, is figure out how to get everyone out there by the next afternoon to see Kenny and Turvy vie for supreme in the closing ceremonies Saturday evening.

By 9:00 p.m. Friday evening, they had secured a flight that got Kenny’s parents, siblings and spouses to Madison by 2:30 p.m. Saturday — just three hours before the closing ceremonies – to surprise Kenny, who had no idea they were coming out.

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The Stambaugh family (photo by Sherry Bunting)

Kenny confessed he was pretty nervous in the ring, but it never showed because he had faith his cow stacked up pretty well against the competition.

When asked what gave Turvy the edge in a competitive Red & White class, Kenny and Crystal agreed: “It was her youthful udder and big frame,” said Kenny. Turby is classified EX-94 with a 96-point mammary system.

day-5-0.JPG“She also walks on an awesome set of feet and legs,” Crystal added. “But after three calves at five years old, to have that youthful udder is pretty special.”

What makes the win even more special for the family is that Turvy’s dam was the Stambaugh family’s first homebred Red & White Holstein. To have a World Dairy Expo grand champion in a daughter of their first homebred Red & White just makes the win belong to everyone on the farm.

When Barney and Debbie Stambaugh started farming on their own in 1991, they purchased some Red & Whites and over the years bred them to some top black and white Holstein genetics, which yielded a red line within the herd.

“Dad had worked for Peace and Plenty as a kid, and that really sparked it in him,” Crystal recounted.

She describes the breeding philosophy at Pheasant Echo’s as one that allows them to have “a lot of old cows. We are fortunate that way,” she said. “Between the genetics and cattle care, we want cows that hang around, breed back and have productive life.”

The family sold an Armani heifer out of Turvy in the Apple Mania Sale and another out of this family at the National Red & White Convention Sale when that sale was hosted at the farm during the convention week in Maryland last summer.

Turvy had previously placed second in the junior competition at the 2014 World Dairy Expo and 7th in the open competition that year. “She has really come into her own,” said Crystal of the cow that likes to swish her tail.

“Nothing makes me happier than being able to come out and look at good cows when it’s time to milk,” said Kenny. “It sure makes it easier to get up at 3 a.m.,” Crystal added.

Kenny and Crystal agree that this will now be their favorite show memory. Prior to this win, it was the grand champion win at the 2014 All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg.

But nothing tops winning at the 50th World Dairy Expo with a bred-and-owned cow, and being the leadsman at the halter to boot.

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Kenny Stambaugh and his wife Nicole and homebred WDE grand champion Pheasant Echo’s Turvy-Red are flanked by parents Byron (“Barney”) and Debbie (right) and siblings and spouses from left, Bud Stambaugh, CJ and Tanya Miller and Dan and Crystal Edwards. Photo by Sherry Bunting as appeared on Cover of Farmshine Oct. 14, 2016

 

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Looking back… and forward: Troxel dairy herd dispersal 10/20 at 10:20 at farm.

By Sherry Bunting (portions reprinted from Farmers Exchange 10/14/16 and portions reprinted from Farmshine 10/14/16)

HANNA, Ind. — Amid the difficult economics of dairy and beef production these days, many farm families are going through tough decisions about the future — along with uncertainty about the interest or ability their next generation may have for continuing the business. America’s dairy and livestock farms have raised generations of cattle that nourish our bodies, our rural economies and the land… not to mention raising generations of young people with the skills, work ethics and passion that take them far in their on-and-off-farm pursuits.

Herd dispersals are on the rise among family farms of all sizes. And while it is sad to see some of these farms mark an end to an era, there is reason for hope. The largest obstacle, in my view, is the current pricing systems and the concentration of power in a more vertically-integrated marketplace for both milk and beef. Consumers can help change this direction by caring where their food comes from and asking their grocers to identify country of origin as is done with fruits and vegetables — but that is a story for another day.

Today, I want readers to know about the Troxel Dairy Farm and their upcoming herd dispersal sale on Thursday, October 20th at 10:20 a.m. (10/20 and 10:20!) taking place at their farm at 17808 S 600 W, Hanna, Indiana.

Having known Dr. Tom and LuAnn Troxel for several years and having benefited from their hospitality through all seasons of the year on trips West, I am always in awe of the morning pace at their farm, which is also homebase for Dr. Tom’s South County large animal veterinary practice. And I admire the joy they have that rises above these tough decisions.

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Mornings here have always kept me stepping as I would be out and about with my camera while Dr. Tom was busy in the milkhouse and cleaning pens or putting fresh bedding and feed out for the cows, LuAnn would be back and forth tending calves, answering vet calls, taking second rounds of coffee out to the barn, keeping a breakfast skillet moving forward… and so much more.

Busy mornings are to be expected when two busy people love what they do and when what they do is dairy farming alongside a large animal veterinary practice. Both can be demanding 24/7 jobs, and for 33 years of marriage, Dr. Tom Troxel has pulled double duty — wife LuAnn right there with him in the trenches and taking time to advocate for agriculture.

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On this particular sunny autumn morning last week as we talked about the upcoming dispersal, veterinary customers stopped by for supplies, the milk truck backed into the lane for what will soon be the last daily pickup, workers made sale preparations, cows curiously spectated, while the resident peacocks strutted their stuff, adding their own brilliance to the splashes of color in LuAnn’s gardens that frame the cow pens, milk house and calf hutches.tom-troxel-dvm

LuAnn says she is thankful that after next week, Dr. Tom will have only one job to do.

The cows will be gone, but the South County Veterinary practice continues.

“Dairy isn’t something you just do, it is something that defines you,” said LuAnn during my visit last Monday morning, as she and Tom and son Rudy were finishing chores and preparing for the Oct. 20 complete dispersal of the milking and registered herd.

Her easy smile hid the uncertainty of the transition ahead. “Part of me is really sad, and part of me wonders about new opportunities we’ll find in this next phase.”

Tom confessed: “We’ll miss it. I’m kind of a workaholic so I’ll have to rethink things and find things to do that are more valuable than work.”

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The sale plans were set into motion a year ago, when Tom and LuAnn knew that of their four sons — Rudy, Ned, Josh and Jackson — there would be no next generation to take the reins.

Rather than sell the herd immediately, they waited to calve-in some of the genetic progress Rudy made in his work with the herd over the past four years. This way they are able to sell animals of known value with genomic testing behind them and see some two-year-olds freshen and milk to get a glimpse of what would have been a great foundation herd for the future, that Rudy had developed — before passing the animals on to their new homes.

The Troxel Dairy herd dispersal is slated for 10:20 a.m. CDT on Thursday, October 20 at the farm. About 215 cattle will sell, including 113 cataloged cow and heifer lots, plus half-lot calves and embryos. Many are registered Holsteins, with solid genomic numbers, especially for productive life (PL), daughter pregnancy rate (DPR), somatic cell count (SCC), and milk components.

In fact, this milking herd of 140 cows produces high quality milk with somatic cell count consistently under 100,000. The current average is 75,000! Healthy animals and high quality milk have always been high priorities here.

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The sale includes a unique range: predominantly registered Holstein cattle of all ages, including Polled, dominant/variant Red and Outcross genetics, as well as over a dozen Jerseys of all ages, some type Holsteins and 100 commercial grade milking cows and springing heifers.

“The genetic improvement has been quite something, considering that four years ago we had just one registered Holstein, and today we have 130 that are registered,” said Dr. Tom, crediting son Rudy’s skill and zeal for genetics. “With good genomic tests, these animals would have been a good foundation for the future, but now they can be a benefit to someone else.”

Rudy’s philosophy in transitioning the herd from grade to registered dovetailed with his parents’ longstanding emphasis on healthy cattle and preventive care. He bred not for show, but for working cattle “to exemplify the true working Holstein,” he explained the science-driven approach to breeding a true commercial cow. “We have rarely bred a cow under 1 or 2 in their DPR, and we have cattle at 5, 6, 7, even over 8 in productive life.”

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While Rudy finds some satisfaction in having built a young herd with a few cow families that hold a lot of promise, he noted that around 30 of the registered animals are milking and over 75 are “the best that was yet to come.”

He points out the Ross cow they purchased from Clear Echo at the Summer Event Sale in Wisconsin in 2012. She is lot 13, with over 20 direct descendants selling, plus additional calves. The Dreamar cow is another he identifies as he thumbs through the catalog. She has nine direct descendents selling right along, plus embryos.

“Rudy took the (genetics) ball and ran with it,” said Tom with a smile.

With sale day fast approaching, LuAnn reflects on the decision to discontinue the dairy. “It was something that took weeks, even months to accept,” she said.

“We’ve ridden these cycles up and down for over 30 years,” the couple agreed. “We haven’t invested in new facilities. The dairy needs infrastructure and improvements. Our next generation made their family decisions not to buy the dairy farm.”

“We weren’t ready for the next generation,” Tom interjected. “Look around. We have lean to’s, not a new 21st Century building.”

Together they wondered, aloud, if investing in new facilities years ago may have produced a different outcome.

“We were so busy working and raising a family that we didn’t really take the time to plan that,” said LuAnn when asked what advice she might have for other farm families with next-generation uncertainty. “We always wanted our sons to make their own decisions on this. We love our four boys, their wives and their families and respect their decision to do what is best for their families.”

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Planning for the next-generation is a challenge, “but I would recommend long term planning, not waiting like we did when it was too late for the planning to help,” she says.

Rudy, who graduated from Purdue with a degree in ag education, has taken an area sales manager position with Genex-CRI to follow the genetics path, which was seeded in junior high with his poultry projects and blossomed with his hand in the dairy herd over the past four years.

“This farm has been going since 1949 and has raised two families,” said Tom. His parents, Phil and Mary Troxel, started farming here almost 70 years ago. His mother was raised on a dairy farm and ahead of her time as a “dairy girl,” taking predominant care of the herd. Tom, one of eight children, was immersed in the farm early after his father suffered a stroke while he was still in high school.

Tom and LuAnn eventually took over the dairy after they married, and have operated both the dairy and Tom’s large animal practice here ever since.

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Standing in the October sunshine discussing the upcoming sale, the curious cows walk right up and LuAnn reflects on the bond between a dairy producer and the cows. “I fed every one of these individually as calves,” she said, noting that while they can seem like children or grandchildren at times, “there’s a difference.”

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“But you do spend more time with the cattle than the grandkids,” Tom interrupted, grinning at the reality of daily cattle care.

For years, the dairy has hosted media, consumer events, school field trips and trainings for vet tech students. (Below: On the left, LuAnn is constantly promoting and advocating for the dairy industry. Two years ago she snapped a photo of twin Jersey x Holstein heifers. Both heifers calved this past July. They and their calves will be sold in the Oct. 20 dispersal. On the right, Rudy shares information about dairy cows with local schoolchildren during a tour at the farm last fall. He will miss the farm and the cows, but is excited to get more involved in genetics as he takes a position with Genex-CRI.)

Both Dr. Tom and LuAnn have served on numerous boards over the years. In addition to serving as a past president of Indiana Dairy Producers (IDP) and currently on the board of the Dairy Girl Network (DGN), LuAnn also serves on the American Dairy Association-Indiana board — a position that will end when the milking ends, as has Tom’s former position on the Foremost Farms cooperative board.

While there may be fewer opportunities to be involved in organizations that promote dairy, the Troxels want to be involved wherever they can in the dairy industry they love. “The people in this industry are special. With few exceptions, dairy producers are honest, hardworking people who care about things other than themselves,” LuAnn points out.

“People say ‘it’s in your blood,’ and I guess that’s because dairying is systemic. It will be a little challenging to define who I am because everything from family relationships to daily routines to friendships and service have been within the context of the dairy farm. I’m not sure what it will be like, but I think it will be fine.”

The Oct. 20 dispersal is managed by Courtney Sales. The Troxels’ church will provide a delicious lunch, prepared with love, for a free will offering to benefit the Harvest Call Haiti Dairy Program.

All are welcome. For more information about the sale and the farm, and to see a catalog, visit www.troxeldairy.com.

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The Troxel family from left Jackson and Paige, Dr. Tom and LuAnn holding Olivia, Maryana, Rudy (holding Nolan) and Rosario, Nathan, Ned and Alyssa, Josh (holding Declan) and Chelsie. Photo by Chelsie Troxel

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Day 12: Goliath aftermath: ‘We appreciate the prayers… they are helping’

“This is an animal story and a human story, and the most heartwarming part in this cold winter storm is that while Mother Nature strikes, and is relentless, the human spirit and hard work of people coming together to help each other, prevails.” In this space, I had planned to write Day 12 about random acts of kindness through the holidays. Telling this story seemed most appropriate as the human spirit prevails this week in the aftermath of Winter Storm Goliath’s 48-hour pounding Dec. 26-28 in the heart of the West Texas and eastern New Mexico dairy and beef region, bringing devastating losses…

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Tio Ford sent this photo two days after the storm as the dig-out was underway at his Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico. You can see the packed snow drifts are up to the top of corral fences. Feedlanes and alleyways were a priority Monday to get animals fed and to the parlor (left) after most cows went 30+ hours without milking.

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, January 1, 2016

CLOVIS, N.M. — Last weekend’s record-breaking blizzard in the Southwest wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was 60 degrees with no winter in sight just a few days before Storm Goliath pounded its way through the southern High Plains. Breaking records as a 100-year storm, the combination of sustained high winds driving fine powdery snow — and the sheer 48-hour duration of the storm — conspired to bring devastating losses to the West Texas and Eastern New Mexico dairy region with early estimates that 5% of the region’s 420,000 dairy cows may have perished and double that percentage in losses of youngstock.

“We heard a monster storm was coming, and we were prepared for a foot or two of snow. That can happen, but no one could envision this type of disaster with high winds coming straight from the North to pile it all up around every structure,” said Dr. Robert Hagevoort of the New Mexico State University dairy extension in a phone interview with Farmshine Wednesday.

The 5% — or 20,000 head — loss figure on milk cows is “a place to start,” he said. “We are trying to be conservative, but it will be hard to know the true count until the region is completely dug-out and losses are tallied. Our first concern is getting the survivors fed and back in their corrals and the milking parlor.”

All of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas south of the Panhandle was hard hit, and the storm center appeared to be directly over the region from Roswell to Clovis to Plainview. While Hagevoort has heard from producers having lost 100 to 200 cows, two producers contacted by Farmshine in Portales and Texico report losses of 40 to 50 head, including the losses of hay barns and untold numbers of young stock.

TioFord5950“We lost some cows, but we have heard of herds losing 5 to 10% of their milking cows,” noted Tio Ford of Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico in an email response Wednesday. “People who had beef cattle on wheat pasture were really hit hard, and we uncovered quite a few deads while trying to clear 10-foot-plus drifts off the roads.” Ford’s family has been rooted in New Mexico for over 100 years. His wife Chyanne’s grandfather left the cold winters of northwestern Pennsylvania for the dryland farming and drylot dairying of eastern New Mexico in the 1950s. Her parents Doug and Irene Handy have Do-Rene Dairy in Clovis.

“The wind came from the North and everything on our dairies in this region faces south. The commodity sheds, parlors, calf hutches – all face south in the winter, so the south side of every structure was snowed in,” said Hagevoort. “The blizzard hit with the snow blowing and everything settling on the south side of every structure, snowing-in the hutches with calves inside and forcing dairies to quit milking because of the 8, 10, 12-foot drifts piling up on the south side entrances to the parlors. They couldn’t see to bring cows in.”

As the alleyways and feed lanes filled with deep drifts of wind-driven packed snow, everything came to a standstill.

The visibility became so bad that for most of those 48 hours “no one could do anything. You couldn’t see two feet beyond the hood of the truck,” he added.

The poor visibility was so dangerous that producers became lost on their own dairies. The one to two feet of snow would not be a problem, if it fell straight down, but the winds created drifts up to 12 feet high and packed so tight that cattle simply walked over corral fences and kept walking, becoming lost and disoriented. Some were buried by the driven snow.

Winter Storm Goliath began Saturday and continued “relentless” through Monday morning with sustained winds over 50 mph and gusts above 82 mph in the first 24 hours. On the second day, sustained winds of 40 mph were recorded with gusts above 65 mph.

“One to two feet of snow, we can handle that if it falls normally like wet snow, but not this fine powdery dust snow driven by high winds,” Hagevoort explained. “We still have four-foot drifts around houses in town that is packed in there heavy and the much higher drifts in the countryside require heavy equipment to dig out.”

A state of emergency was declared for both West Texas and Eastern New Mexico as major roads were closed for two to three days. Even two days after the storm, some country roads were still impenetrable with the kind of snow that blades on trucks can’t move.

“When the winds died down Monday morning and the sun came out, people could see what was going on,” said Hagevoort. “Cattle have walked everywhere, and people are still out finding them. They are digging the snow out of corrals to get surviving cattle back in and fed. There are these massive amounts of snow to move, and dairies have 3 to 4 loaders going 24/7 — digging out calves and moving cows back in and feeding and at some point milking again. The sheer manpower required is massive.”

NewMexico-Goliath01Milk haulers were also among the stranded, and Matthew Cook, a milk hauler from Kansas confirms that he was one in the line of trucks stranded for three days at Southwest Cheese near Clovis. “The roads were all closed, and the wind and blowing snow was out-of-control, so I pretty much hung out in my truck. Most of us knew it was coming so we had food and drink and plenty of fuel,” he said in an email Wednesday, confirming the plant was open again.

Reports indicate not much milk has been processed early this week and in addition to the long stretch of 36 to 40 hours when dairies were unable to milk, some milk in the region also needed to be dumped as trucks could not get out with it.

Hagevoort observed that folks are starting to get back to something remotely resembling normal by Wednesday and the focus on day-old calves and milk cows was shifting to the older young stock and dry cow pens.

In the early going, the Department of Transportation and other state agencies put a call out for large equipment as they are equipped for the occasional four to six-inch snows of the region.

“The focus was on people rescue missions on Monday. Dairymen were digging out dairies and their roads back to the main road in the hope at some point the main roads would be clear and they could meet somewhere,” said Hagevoort.

Dairymen and feedlot operators used their large loaders to help uncover cars with stranded motorists stuck 20 hours or more under the snow.

“It was a really rough weekend. They said we got between 8 and 12 inches of snow here, but I’m not sure how they came up with those amounts because the wind was gusting up to 82 mph,” Ford noted. His 3000-cow New Mexico dairy sits right on the Texas border. “We were stuck at the dairy with a skeleton crew for 36 hours before we were able to get replacements. Every dairy, feedlot, or farmer with a big tractor or loader had them out trying to clear the roads.”

Hagevoort4838 (1)Hagevoort noted that, “This is an animal story and a human story, and the most heartwarming part in this cold storm is that while Mother Nature strikes and is relentless, the human spirit and hard work of people coming together to help each other, prevails.”

Dairymen are not usually an emotional lot. They focus on the business and the work and the challenges, but the emotion is raw at the loss of these animals and the sheer devastation. Amid the heartbreak of the losses, producers have no time to dwell as they put one foot in front of the other to dig out and tend cattle and keep their employees safe as everyone works together to find the lost, feed and tend to the survivors, and get the dairies operating again.

While the USDA FSA livestock indemnity program exists as part of the last Farm Bill, it is capped, so Hagevoort says it will be difficult if the large number of losses exceeds the financial compensation available through the indemnity programs.

While size doesn’t matter in terms of the impact of Goliath’s relentless strike, larger dairies may be affected by the caps in terms of receiving compensation proportional to their levels of loss. Officials urge dairy producers to document everything to sort out the help that may be available in the future.

NewMexico-Goliath03 (1)Dairies will continue to work around the huge drifts that won’t melt any time soon as the first priority is locating and securing their animals as they dig out alleys, feed lanes and corrals.

“We can look ahead at how to mobilize resources more rapidly in the future, or how to be safer in situations like this, but the truth is… no two storms are ever the same. This one packed an uncommon combination and longtime residents say they’ve never seen anything like it,” said Hagevoort.

With temps in the teens and 20s and night time wind chills down to -18 at night during the height of the storm, there will be sick cattle and frostbite issues to deal with going forward.

Producers also reported not being able to milk cows for 36 to 40 hours, and that will also impact health and production going forward.

“The cattle have seen a lot of stress,” said Hagevoort. “But we will work through it. It’s a tough thing in times like this where the milk price is below where it needs to be.”

But just like in Dallas, where Goliath spawned tornados and floods, the remarkable human spirit prevails.

“People come together,” said Hagevoort. “On our dairies here, the employees stayed working two to three shifts and owners worked untold hours with them and cooked meals and washed clothes to keep them going. The combination of family farms with employees and owners working together to make it through a challenge like this… That’s the real story.”

NewMexico-Goliath04While the final tally is likely to show young stock losses to be twice that of the estimated 20,000 milk cows lost across the region, Hagevoort noted remarkable stories coming in about calves being found under 6-feet of snow — alive in their hutches.

“This is an incredible story of farmers taking care of the animals they are entrusted with, despite the fury Mother Nature sometimes unexpectedly unleashes,” read a post on Wednesday at the New Mexico State University Dairy Extension’s Facebook page.

On Monday, Tara Vander Dussen of Rajen Dairy with three facilities totaling 10,000 cows in the region wrote a post on her public Facebook page telling consumers and animal activists: “I wish you understood how much we care about our cows. I wish you knew that my husband, brothers, dads, uncles, family and friends got up this morning at 2:00 a.m. to go to the dairy in a blizzard with 65 mph winds, -16°F wind chill, lightning and 6-feet snow drifts. They had to leave their families and children (some families had no power) so our cows could have food and water. They went out to take care of our cows the best that they can. And they did this after working a full day on Christmas Eve and Christmas! They do all of this because they care about the health and safety of every animal on our family farm! I wish you knew.”

Two days and nearly 20,000 shares later, Vander Dussen started a New Mexico Milkmaid blog to communicate further on this topic.

All told, Goliath’s effect stretched across much of the U.S midsection. The massive storm included heavy rain, floods and tornados on the severe side and blizzards with snow and driving winds on the wintry side with ice storms in the middle around the center of Oklahoma.

The rains have put southwest totals ranging 50 to 150% above normal. Cold and muddy conditions are also impacting the beef and dairy operators from the Southern Plains through the Midwest Corn Belt.

BenSmith4577 (1)“It was a storm I can’t put into words or ever experienced,” said Ben Smith of Arrowhead Dairy, Clovis, N.M.” We have a lot of snow digging out still to do and a lot of cleanup to do as well. We have been milking and feeding again for two days, so that part is good.” When asked what people can do to help, producers say “the prayers are appreciated… and they are helping. -30-

 

FarmshineSee the original story in the January 1, 2016 edition of Farmshine 

 

CAPTIONS

Winter has been nonexistent so far in the Northeast where earthworms litter the ground, spring peepers can be heard, and migratory birds are confused about which way to fly. But for producers in the West Texas and eastern New Mexico dairy region, winter came abruptly last weekend with a vengeance never seen there before and bringing a combination of factors that would be difficult for dairy farms even in regions more accustomed and prepared for big snows. Storm Goliath pounded the area with one to two feet of fine powdery snow driven by 50 to 80 mph winds coming straight from the north and piling hard-packed drifts up to 12-feet high against every structure from calf hutches to commodity sheds to milking parlors. Estimates are that 5% of the region’s milk cows have perished — buried by drifting snow and disoriented as they wandered over the tight-packed snow drifts along corral fence lines. Dry lots work very well in this more desert-like region of the country. Manure dries up and cows stay clean. But this uncommon combination from Storm Goliath brought dairies to a standstill for 48 hours in which the visibility was so poor, producers themselves were getting lost on their own dairies. By Wednesday they were still digging out, finding and tending survivors and just beginning to assess their losses. Photo courtesy of Tio Ford, Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico.

A line of milk trucks was stranded for three days at Southwest Cheese, Clovis, New Mexico, and throughout the region dairies dumped to days of milk with many unable to milk cows for 36 to 40 hours. Photo courtesy of milk hauler Matthew Cook.

In New Mexico and West Texas, the humidity is very low and dry lots are the way dairy cattle are kept. Loaders are needed to dig through the 8 to 12-feet tightly packed drifts that have piled up in corrals, feed lanes and against the south side of every structure from fences to parlors to calf hutches. Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Extension.

Finding and feeding young calves and milk cows was priority one when the storm ended Monday morning. Calves had been buried in hutches under 6-feet of snow pack, but stories are coming in that a surprising number are being found alive. Officials estimate a 10% loss of young stock throughout the eastern New Mexico and West Texas dairy region from Storm Goliath. Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Extension.

Dairy Carrie also blogged on this with stories from four dairies here