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…

NewMexico-Goliath02 (1)

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

Day 5: ‘The SheepOver’ captivates in time for Christmas

12 days of Christmas… with a twist.

Day 5:  If you love sheep, or beautiful photo art or just want to read and see an authenticly sweet story… I highly recommend Sweet Pea & Friends “The SheepOver,” with its one-of-a-kind storybook style for children and adults, alike. Today’s Farmshine has a story about how John and Jennifer Churchman followed their dream, self-published a children’s book last summer, and after the dust settled on the publishers’ bidding war recently, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has it widely available in time for Christmas. The 6 preordered copies I purchased all have good homes in Pennsylvania and South Dakota! 🙂  (Photos herein by John Churchman)

 Sweet Pea(book)Churchman

 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Dec. 18, 2015 

ESSEX, Vt. — In some ways an ordinary farm, in other ways not so much. John and Jennifer Churchman create photography for commercial purposes at their Essex, Vermont farm where the animals and crops are subjects for client projects.

Their work has now yielded an extraordinary book: Sweet Pea & Friends “The Sheepover,” which has taken the children’s literature industry by storm. After the dust settled on a bidding war by five major publishers a few weeks ago, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers took over and immediately moved the farm-rooted, magically-illustrated story about injured lamb “Sweet Pea” to market in time for Christmas.

The Sheepover is available at local book stores, Barnes and Noble, and stores like Target, and Walmart. This link will take those interested to find stores that have it or where to order it in time for Christmas http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/jennifer-churchman/the-sheepover/9780316273565/

In fact The Sheepover went from 20,000th most popular book on Amazon to 500th in a few short days, then sold out in that online venue. Little, Brown is working on re-stocking for Amazon Prime delivery.

SweetPea_spreads(Churchman)

But before all of this excitement, the story began simply when fine art photographer John Churchman and his wife, Jennifer, a writer and photographer, started a self-publishing book project. They didn’t sit down with a marketing plan, nor did they envision the quick sell-out of their first 4000 self-published copies nor the publishers’ “bidding war” that followed.

John&JenniferChurchman

The Churchmans have a small farm in the Green Mountains of Vermont, where sheep and other farm animals are photographic models. The Churchmans designed the unique and story-telling photographic labels that had endeared the former Shenandoah Valley Family Farms milk to communities caring about where their milk comes from and the story about the Virginia farm families behind its production.

When SVF closed its doors last year, the couple threw themselves into what had been on their dream list for a long time: A children’s book.

It began innocently enough. They often posted photos of their idyllic pastoral farm and its animals on their Facebook page, where friends and followers first met Sweet Pea.

“It really came about through social media,” said John in a phone interview this week. “We had developed a good following for Sweet Pea since she was a little orphan bottle lamb, so when she was injured, there was an outpouring of people wishing and following her recovery. We decided to do a book about it.”

They launched a “kick-starter” campaign and made the goal for a first edition printing in 15 hours. Their supporters then saw the creative process of the book take shape with the Churchmans’ regular Facebook posts at the Sweet Pea & Friends page.

John turned his photographs of the farm into unique illustrations and Jennifer wrote the story. They worked back and forth, fitting the images with the story and collaborating on how the book would look and feel.

Just as they had captured the authentic dairy farm life on the former SVF labels and related it to the authenticity of their milk, the Sheepover storybook is both magical and authentic.

The three-book deal with Little, Brown has them already working on book two with a different of their sheep — “the brave and mighty Finn.”

“We worked to make the best book we could, and did it thinking someday we’d have Sweet Pea press and grow our business out to do self-fulfillment of book orders,” John relates.

But when a nearby book store (The Flying Pig) showed their enthusiasm, the Churchmans realized they had something that hasn’t been seen before, in a style not seen before.

Reader feedback has conveyed how the book “gives them a sense of grounding in nature, a calm and safe place,” said Jennifer. “Children are connecting and understanding that animals have character and personality, that they form (herd) communities and have a whole world going on… and if we pay attention, we can watch their stories unfold.”

They also see the bond between animal and man, sustaining each other. The book also introduces children to fine art with John’s photo illustrations. “They invoke a sense of whimsy, but still convey a true story about real animals and real farms,” Jennifer noted.

SweetPea5451Barn_lightings(Churchman

Last week, the couple invited the friends and “kick-starters” to a special new barn lighting.

“We have a summer barn in the open pastures, but this is now their winter home, built with a floor plan, a cozy small monitor-style barn with an open format,” Jennifer explains. They designed the barn as a space to also hold events and invite the community and book fans.

“Instead of a Christmas tree lighting, we had this event as a moving-in of the sheep flock for the winter. We lit the barn with lights and wreathes and a tree,” Jennifer described, surprised to draw a couple hundred visitors instead of the 50 or 60 they expected.

“Instead of having the farm open to visitors, we are planning events for visitors to engage here,” Jennifer said. “After all, we have work to do. We are a working farm.”

Even if it is a storybook farm.

 

-30-

 See page 33 in Farmshine 

 

Photo captions – all photos by John Churchman

 

John and Jennifer

John and Jennifer Churchman were the designers of the former Shenandoah Valley Family Farms milk labels and they’ve realized a dream recently in completing a children’s book based on happenings at their small Vermont farm. Photo by John Churchman

SweetPeaBook and/or SweetPeaSpreads

Sweet Pea & Friends “The Sheepover” was self published by the Churchmans. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has now taken over the publishing and rushed it to market in time for Christmas. Check here to see who has it available http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/jennifer-churchman/the-sheepover/9780316273565/ Photo by John Churchman

SweetPeaBarnLighting

Instead of a Christmas tree lighting, the Churchman hosted a couple hundred visitors last week for a barn lighting and the moving-in of the sheep flock for the winter. Photo by John Churchman

 

 

 

Community out ‘full force’ helping farmers rescue cattle

By Sherry Bunting, from March 6, 2015 Farmshine

Accumulated snow on rooftops soaked up Tuesday’s icy rain like a sponge. This heavy, wet snow, that turns to ice and doesn’t move, was blamed Wednesday (March 4) for a string of dairy barn roof collapses in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, ahead of the Nor’easter that followed to hit the region Thursday. At least two such collapses, one in Pennsylvania and the other in New York, trapped large numbers of cattle and resulted in animal losses, but thankfully no people were injured. Communities worked with farmers to rescue trapped cattle and veterinarians worked tirelessly to treat and evaluate the injured.

  IN PENNSYLVANIA: Colpetzers at Xanadu Jerseys thankful for ‘full force’ of community help rescuing cattle

GREENVILLE, Pa. — The Colpetzer family was 15 minutes from chore-time, when the roof collapsed on their 9-year-old drive-through bedded-pack barn housing 150 young heifers, bred heifers and dry cows at Xanadu Jerseys around 5:00 p.m. Tuesday evening (March 4).

“The kids heard the loud boom,” Amy Colpetzer said in a Farmshine phone interview Wednesday. “We have employees who live in the house at the heifer barn. They called and told us the roof had collapsed.”

By 5:30, rescue teams from over a half dozen Mercer County emergency departments were arriving, including a structure-collapse team whose role it was to secure the building for the rescue of cattle trapped inside as more than half of the barn roof had collapsed. Meanwhile rescue crews — along with volunteers, friends and neighbors — worked through the night to reach cows that were trapped in the debris. Cows were methodically led out of the other half of the building as well, to protect them from further collapse.

Photo courtesy of WFMJ - 21 news

Photo courtesy of WFMJ – 21 news

“All that weight on a tin structure, that we’re looking at, would definitely weigh it down,” said Sheakleyville Fire Department representative Jim Tuchek, according to the local reporting of 21-WFMJ news on Tuesday night. “We have probably 20 Amish men in there shoveling snow off of the tin that fell, which has all the snow on top of it, and all the trusses are also involved.”

By 9:30 p.m., most of the animals had been removed, but there are still areas under the snow topped roof debris that have not been cleared as of Wednesday late afternoon.

Photo courtesy of WFMJ - 21 news

Photo courtesy of WFMJ – 21 news

The family reported Wednesday that 10 cattle had perished, and another 14 were “in a hospital state,” including four that are still down. One that was due to calve 10 weeks from now began calving early.

As of Wednesday afternoon, cattle were still being evaluated and the building is estimated to be a near-total loss. “That’s the way it is. We are still facing decision time on some of these cattle,” said Amy, explaining that they were still working on relocating the cows that were transported to Mercer Livestock Tuesday night.

How are Amy and Tom and children Sam, Angela and George Colpetzer coping?

“The community,” said Amy, and after a long pause: “The community came out in full force. People came here from two to three hours away last night. Our veterinarian Dr. Vanessa Philson Uber and her assistant were wonderful. I have never seen anyone in action like that tiny woman. You got out of her way and she was going to save whatever she could. She was here until 1:30 a.m. and she’s back again this afternoon re-dressing wounds.”

Amy noted that over 100 people with 20 to 30 cattle trailers moved animals as they were removed from the debris and triaged by the veterinarian. “The folks from Mercer Livestock came and said ‘our barn is your barn,’ so we moved cattle there so they could have a dry bedded pen, a roof over their heads and hay to eat.”

The Colpetzers prepared for some of those cattle to come back home Thursday, while relocating other animals to another farm.

“We can’t thank everyone enough for everything being done,” Amy said, noting that a woman she’d met only once stopped Wednesday with 40 bagged lunches for the family and volunteers.

Of the cattle that perished, one was a special cow “Diva,” which George, Sam and Angela had invested in. Another was the first offspring of their own homebred bull that had sired a top placing senior in milk at Louisville last fall. And they lost “a recently purchased dry cow the kids were pretty excited about,” Amy said.

She is thankful for her children. “Last night George hugged me and said: ‘We’re going to make this mom. Don’t ask me for the details yet, but we’re going to make it,’” Amy related.

George also posted a special note on Facebook in response to the outpouring of friends. Expressing the family’s gratitude for those who responded in a time of need, he wrote: “It was a humbling experience to see the numerous folks, firemen and truckers, who came to our aid. Above all let us thank Dr. Vanessa Philson Uber. This lady is dedicated to her job and assisted in helping with cows and making decisions at a time when they are so crucial.

“The thought now is where do we go from here, what do we do now?” he asked. “We are trying to recuperate, clean up, and see how many cattle made it and did not. Some of our better cows are gone, but many are still here at this hour. To the cows that are gone, thanks for what you have done for us, it was a great pleasure to work with you. To those that made it, we are optimistic that this will enable us to envision our future and what it contains. Optimism is hard to have right now, it is not a picnic by any means, but we must make a plan on how to move forward with Providence’s guidance. Thank you for the support and God bless.”

Asked what folks can do to help, Amy said simply: “Pray. We are thankful no one was hurt. I’ve got my kids here and my husband here. Just pray for the strength to keep on trucking.”

IN NEW YORK, community rallies to help Whey Street Dairy 

CUYLER, N.Y. —  A second dairy barn roof collapse in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region was at Whey Street Dairy in Central New York’s Cortland County — also resulting in animal losses, but no people were hurt.

Roof collapses are not common on Pennsylvania and New York dairy farms, but the past few winters of continual snow followed by rain followed by snow — along with volatile temperature extremes creating moist air and freezing surfaces — have led to seeing more of them.

At Whey Street Dairy, 25 miles south of Syracuse, five animals perished and at least 10 more were injured when a third of the roof over their freestall barn partially collapsed, trapping 75 to 100 of the 500 cattle inside.

According to local news reports Wednesday at Syracuse.com, eight fire departments from three counties arrived at the dairy, but Marty said “it was his friends and neighbors who came to lend support that overwhelmed him.”

After the firefighters left, the local community kept working as a dozen of friends, neighbors and fellow farmers were still at the farm Wednesday afternoon clearing debris and heavy, wet snow.

Marty told local news outlets that he learned of the roof collapse when an employee came down the road to his house after midnight. He had just finished milking in the separate parlor and was thankfully not in the freestall barn at the time of the collapse.

In some parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, snow has not been able to thaw since Christmas, so the problem of roof snowloads increases. The Syracuse news report indicated that the region has seen almost a dozen roof collapse incidents this winter.

Back to back years of increased risk… Last winter, a similar stretch of volatile winter temperatures coupled with the frequent snow / ice / rain events resulted in a major barn roof collapse at Ar-Joy Farms, Cochranville, Chester County, Pa. The Hershey family lost more than two dozen cows among the 600 in that barn and spoke of their profound gratitude for the get’r done spirit of fellow farmers and a supportive community. no roof

No ‘snow days’ on the farm

cows6781By Sherry Bunting, columnist, Register-Star, Feb. 21, 2015

There are no ‘snow days’ on the farm. “When it is this cold, the simple every day protocols become enduring days of work,” notes Cody Williams of Wil-Roc Dairy, Kinderhook, where some of the 1500 Holstein dairy cows are housed in new and modern barns, while others are exposed a bit more to the elements in older facilities.

“We change our teat dip when it’s this cold, for extra moisturizing to the skin,” Cody explains. “We also adjust the cow diets to keep our cows in a positive energy balance as they burn more energy to maintain themselves during weather extremes.”

Operating a dairy or livestock farm in the extreme cold is not for the faint of heart. Veteran beef producer Phil Trowbridge of Ghent observes: “We know how to take care of ourselves. We dress in layers and give each other breaks.”

Frozen pipes, pumps, waterers, and manure — as well as difficulty in starting equipment — are commonly reported concerns when the snow piles up and the temperatures plummet, and, of course, concerns about keeping rooftops clear of a too-heavy burden.

Last week the mercury hit -14 at Trowbridge Angus Farm, where it is calving season January through March. The family, and their over 300 beef breeding cows, are navigating two to three feet of snow cover.

Twenty miles away near Schodack Landing, temps of -11 went virtually unnoticed by the over 700 Jersey dairy cows at Dutch Hollow Farm. They are tucked away in their barns with retractable sidewall curtains that stay open more often than not for natural light and ventilation but remain closed when the wind chills get this low.

Cattle are cold weather animals, but they do not like wind or drafts. The difference between beef and dairy breeds is the way their centuries-old partnership with man has adapted through specialized breeding and care.

IMG_1939x

Beef breed cattle are kept outside pretty much year-round, coming into the barn only at calving time. Dairy cattle, on the other hand, are typically housed in barns year-round. While beef breed cattle spend more time foraging for their food and seeking the natural and provided windbreaks to lay down, dairy cattle in freestall barns will amble short distances inside from feedbunks and waterers to the deep-bedded stalls that are groomed for them two or three times a day while they are milking.

Dairy cows are accustomed to constant human handling from the time they are calves. 10986660_10206244497857081_5937924373439440151_oThey have a different temperament about the whole calving deal.They aren’t worried about predators and trust the humans they work beside day in and day out to care for them and their offspring.

Beef breeding cows, on the other hand, are more self-sufficient and protective of their young. They raise their offspring for the more hands-off life as a non-milking breeding animal or to spend 80% of their life foraging on pasture with the last 20% of their life in the beef fattening phase.

One thing in common: Both beef and dairy producers focus on the newborns immediately at birth to make sure each calf gets a warm start and enough colostrum for the passive transfer of immunity from its dam.

“When we get real cold weather like we have seen this winter, we spend more time in the calving barn at night. We pretty much sleep here with them when it’s this cold,” says beef producer Phil Trowbridge, who has had 50 calves born since January 1. “The main thing is to get those calves dried off and warmed up as soon as they are born, and to make sure they get enough colostrum. In two or three days, they’re old enough and strong enough to go outside.”

Not only are they prepared for cold weather, they frolic in it. “I took a video with my cell phone of the calves the other day when it was minus-11. We were putting out bedding for the cows, and saw those calves were feeling so good, they were just running through the snow,” Phil relates. “I like seeing that.”

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Stockpiled pasture grasses make a nice winter forage as cattle can push off a few inches or a foot of snow to graze it, and they do well getting around in the snow outdoors. But with over two feet of snow cover this winter, the Trowbridge family cuts trails to help the cattle conserve energy. They also put down extra bedding, more often, in the areas with windbreaks and feed more outdoor hay and supplement.

Meanwhile, on a dairy farm, the cows calve year-round. Calving pens are watched through video monitoring or by walk-throughs. The immediate newborn calf care continues

Tricia Adams pictures one of the heated boxes for newborn calves at Hoffman Farms

Tricia Adams pictures one of the heated boxes for newborn calves at Hoffman Farms

through the first few weeks of life in the calf nursery or individual hutches. Newborns often get time in a heat box or wear calf jackets and sometimes earmuffs when it’s this cold, and they are fed more often for increased energy to maintain their temperature and to grow.

“Taking care of the animals is pretty much routine. The feeding is very consistent day to day, and the freestalls are bedded twice a week,” says Paul Chittenden of Dutch Hollow
Farm. “Clean and dry and plenty to eat are what we focus on — regardless of the weather. Cows always have dry sawdust with extra sawdust stored in the front of the stalls. This allows for plenty of dry bedding to stir around each time we groom the stalls when the cows go to the parlor for milking.”

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Water is critical for drinking and cleaning, so lines are buried underground and drinking tubs are equipped with heaters.

“Cold weather management is really not too complicated,” explains bovine veterinarian and dairy farmer Dr. Tom Troxel. “Cows need to have plenty of feed and water, be out of the wind, and have a dry place to lay down. If they have these things, they can survive an awful lot.”

“No matter the weather, we have our jobs to do here,” notes Cody of Wil-Roc Dairy. “That is itself the reward. Getting our everyday tasks done and looking to see how the stressors of weather and other events can affect our system… That is how we keep improving how we do things all year long.”

Sherry Bunting is a member of North American Agriculture Journalists and has been covering beef and dairy production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows and graded beef cattle for market reports. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net

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Dairy and beef cattle are adapted differently, but they all depend on their people for great care during the weather extremes we have seen here this winter. Farming is not for the faint of heart. Everyday tasks take longer to complete but it sure is rewarding to see cows thrive and calves frolic after a good start – regardless of the weather! Photos by Sherry Bunting, Beth Chittenden and Evelyn Troutman.