Gift of life, keeps giving

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Justin, Claire, Reese, 10, Brinkley, 8, and Tripp, the dog, by the Christmas tree on a December afternoon just 3 weeks after the kidney transplant that gives Reese a new lease on life. Tucked in under the tree is Reese’s beloved cat Jack. Reese is quite enthusiastic about her four-legged friends, be they Holstein dairy cattle or house pets. Photo by Sherry Bunting 

 

‘Reese shows us you can have tragedy in your life and still move on and be full of life and hope for the future.’

 By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, Friday, December 15, 2017

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — Cheese ball is back on the menu this Christmas at the Burdette house on Corner Road outside of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. It’s among the favorite foods that Reese Burdette has had to forgo for nearly four years to be easy on her damaged kidneys as she recovered from the May 2014 house fire.

That, along with hash brown casserole and all the yummy goodness of dairy foods, potatoes, orange juice and bananas — essentially nutritious foods high in vitamins such as potassium. In fact, so happy is Reese about bananas, Claire believes she’s eaten a tree full already.

Not only is Reese happy to be eating these foods again, “I hope to start growing again too!” the smiling 10-year-old said during my visit to Windy-Knoll View farm last Thursday.

While she has forged ahead on this journey on every front, it was the kidney transplant everyone knew Reese would eventually need that was hanging out there on the horizon. Justin and Claire Burdette learned in September that their daughter was in renal failure. She had been doing so well, so the timing was a bit of a shock.

Many people had already been tested as live donors — from friends and family members to colleagues in the dairy industry. But who would think that the “angel” sent into Reese’s life would be a friend of a cousin by marriage who had met Reese one time, a young, single woman with a heart of gold and willing to go through the surgery to donate a kidney to give Reese the vitality of life this ‘tuff girl’ has been fighting for.

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Ahead of the kidney transplant surgery, Reese’s aunt Laura Jackson updated on social media describing Alyssa as selfless, inspirational, courageous and beautiful with a giving spirit that is truly admirable. “Her love of children and animals led her right to us because right now, Reese does need some extra help,” wrote Laura. What many may not realize is that this gift of a new kidney comes from a woman “who loves her family and just wants to make a difference in this crazy world we live in… What this beautiful soul has offered up is a very different kind of life for Reese… the chance to be a normal 10-year-old with a chance to grow.”  Photo credit Bre Bogert Photography

Through the selfless generosity of Alyssa Hussey, 32, of Winchester, Virginia, a special education teacher with the Loudoun County Public Schools, the successful kidney transplant took place at Johns Hopkins on November 20. Not only are they both home and doing well, Reese was released just five days after the surgery, getting her home just after Thanksgiving and far sooner than imagined.

The two were expecting to have a visit at the farm this week, and Reese said she is anxious to show her hero around to see her growing little herd of 12 Holsteins, not to mention the five calves her sister Brinkley has accumulated among the Windy-Knoll View herd of top registered Holsteins.

Ahead of the transplant surgery, Reese’s aunt Laura Jackson updated on social media to say:

“What many may not realize is what this beautiful soul has offered up is a very different kind of life for Reese, a chance at a life with more quality and abundance, of water parks, river swimming, better health and the chance to be a normal 10-year-old with a chance to grow.”

Alyssa has given Reese the ultimate gift — the gift of life.

“We are relieved to have faced this. We knew it was coming. We just didn’t think it would be now. But what a blessing,” Justin reflects. “This kidney transplant would not be possible without someone like Alyssa. It’s proof that living donors are out there and we found one that we had ties to and never knew.”

Claire says that, “It’s hard to fathom someone willing to give our child their kidney and we barely knew her. But she didn’t think twice. We are beyond grateful.”

Burdettes_Dec2017-14 (1)It was a regular day on the farm when I arrived just as Reese was finishing school via the virtual robot — a necessity as she avoids large indoor crowds for the next 100 days since the transplant. Her younger sister Brinkley was just getting off the school bus. We had an hour to talk before Justin headed out to milk, driving down Brinkley and Reese Way, the dirt roads across the field between their house and the farm. The late afternoon sun, as the farm’s name suggests, broke through cold windswept clouds in the gap of the south mountains.

 

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Three weeks after her kidney transplant, Reese looked forward to the annual sleigh ride in Greencastle last Friday evening with grandparents Jim and Nina Burdette. While she must avoid indoor crowds for 100 days, the outdoor Christmas festivity was high on her list of things to look forward to. Facebook photo.

At the kitchen table, the topic of conversation centered on the many things Reese was already reintroducing into her life since the transplant, the goals she and her mother Claire have set, and the activities she is looking forward to – not the least of which was a trip to Greencastle Friday evening for the annual horse-drawn sleigh ride with her Momo and Papap (Jim and Nina Burdette).

What is it about Reese’s story that has inspired such a far-reaching interest and impact? People write and call and follow her progress from near and far. It’s a story of faith, hope and the determination to live life to the fullest, to overcome challenges and setbacks, to never give up, never let go of the rope and to keep moving forward in a matter-of-fact way with fierce strength, raw honesty, family love and accountability filtered by the wisdom of a 10-year-old’s keen sense of humor.

Justin notes that they had a visit not long ago from a Canadian couple who keep in touch often to see how Reese is doing. They traveled to Pennsylvania just to visit her, amazed by her journey after nearly two years at Johns Hopkins recovering from the fire. This dairy farming couple had been through a barn fire and had dealt with animal losses that were depressing. Knowing Reese, seeing her, has made a difference in their world.

They are but one example of hearts Reese has helped to heal through her own example.

They are among the many who have written the Burdettes about what Reese’s story means to them, and what her journey has done for them in their own circumstances. Claire explains that, at first, these responses were hard to realize and digest because so many have done so much for Reese and their family that they felt they were leaning on others only to learn that others were finding support also in them.

Reese-Brinkley-Sleigh(FacebookPhotoProvided)“I think what Reese shows us is that you can have tragedy in your life and still move on and be full of life and hope for the future. I think that is what Reese has done for people,” Claire explains.

Healing and support going both ways – a lifeline — gifts that keep giving.

In like manner, the kidney donated by Alyssa Hussey is new hope transplanted, a gift that keeps giving in a young girl with a second chance.

Justin and Claire also had high praise for their summer intern who came back to help at the farm so they could be with Reese, worry-free, in the hospital for the transplant. Mikey Barton is the grandson of Ken Main of Elite Dairy and Cutting-Edge Genetics in Copake, New York. He had served as an intern last summer at Windy-Knoll View, and when he heard about the upcoming kidney transplant for Reese, he came down to help take care of things.

“We are so blessed,” the Burdettes said, describing the bond Mikey has made with their family. “Blessed that he comes back to see us and that he would take his time off to come down here so we could focus on Reese.”

 

Justin was quick to point out that he got back to the farm Wednesday to be sure to have Mikey home with his family for Thanksgiving, and that Mikey made time to drive the two hours south to see Reese in the hospital before heading north back to New York.

“We felt we have learned as much from Mikey as he has learned from us through this internship experience,” said Claire. “It has been a neat connection. He knows our routine and we didn’t have to worry about things at home for those few days.”

The Burdettes also credit the support of their local community and the dairy community from the beginning. Flannery’s Tavern on the Square in Mercersburg hosted a Team Reese fundraiser a week before the kidney transplant to help with medical and related expenses with the restaurant donating 15% of the days sales and providing a room for 75 silent-auction items donated and bid on by the greater community.

For the Burdettes, it has been the physical outpouring that accompanies the financial support of others that has lifted them up. To see a Team Reese fundraiser pack the local restaurant from open to close shows how much Reese has lived up to her nickname as “Mercersburg’s daughter.” When she and Brinkley walk into Flannerys, as they do once a week, people cheer. No price can be put on that physical show of support.

Every effort to this point has come together toward a life that will be much different for Reese now. No lines to tether her. No long trips for dialysis.

Clair confirms the doctors are very happy with her progress and her bloodwork looks good. Her main job in the next 100 days is to stay healthy and drink lots of fluids for that new kidney.

High on Reese’s list of “new” is fewer shots, fewer medicines, and working on giving up the tracheotomy for supplemental oxygen.

She is pretty excited about her Dad’s promise of a trip to Great Wolf Lodge where a waterpark is in her future.

“I can’t wait to bathe in that waterpark and get Brinkley soaked!” she says with a laugh.

But first she needs to reach the point in her journey where the trach is no longer needed. Now that the kidney transplant has occurred, there will be sleep studies and trials to be sure the timing is right to close the trach, and then the watersports and other activities will beckon. Reese already gave up the constant companion of traveling oxygen last Easter when she wanted to be outside with the other kids for a longer period of time, and decided on her own, she didn’t need it.

Reese has set a goal to attend the Pennsylvania Junior Holstein Convention in Lancaster in February. Mom’s goal is to get her through the next three months away from crowds to be strong and healthy into this next chapter of her journey.

Because we all know what comes next. There are calves to work with and cows to care for and in addition to a new calf Cream Cheese from her Carrie cow, named after the child life specialist who has been inspirational on this journey, there are the new gals from her Pantene line, like Potato Chip and Pretzel.

Reese and Brinkley talk excitedly about their cattle as they rattle off names and pedigrees.

But the cow work will have to wait, except for drive-throughs this winter. Instead, Reese is happy to be making and eating some of her favorite dishes. This week she made sticky buns with her Momo and a repeat favorite meal – sloppy joes.

She says, “No more driving to dialysis and getting home late at night!” That all ended on November 21 along with the line in her belly and the constant hemoglobin shots.

The people who have stuck with Reese from the beginning continue to be there in large ways and small. A woman in town still sends Reese a card every week, just as she has since May 2014.

As for the Christmas celebration, her second at home since the fire, Reese has big plans. She shared her small, but typical 10-year-old’s list for Santa and the family traditions she looks forward to. To avoid contact with crowds, she’s shopping by internet, and she’s pretty excited that on Christmas Eve, she will be helping her Momo prepare the dinner.

For Claire and Justin, having their daughter home with her new kidney for Christmas is the greatest gift of all.

“There is so much good in this world,” Justin affirms. “We just have to look for it.”

One place to look is the inspiration of little Reese Burdette.

Correspondence can be sent to Reese Burdette, 8656 Corner Road, Mercersburg, PA 17236. Financial contributions or fundraisers for Reese and her family, can be sent to “We Love Reese” First Community Bank, 12 S. Main St., Mercersburg, PA 17236.

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Tribute to the legendary Snickerdoodle (1998-2017)

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, October 13, 2017

She remains my favorite dairy cow of all time, and I was honored to write her tribute in the Farmshine.

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SARASOTA, Fla. — Legendary Brown Swiss Old Mill E Snickerdoodle died peacefully just shy of 19 on Monday, October 2 — the eve of the 51st World Dairy Expo, where she is the only cow in history, of any breed, to win her breed championship six times. Snickerdoodle was also once supreme and twice reserve supreme in Madison.

In 2013, she stopped milking at over 14 years of age, with an impressive lifetime production of 261,000M 12,665F 9,895P having milked 3,629 days! That was the year she won the dry cow class with a huge show of respect from colleagues and spectators at the 2013 World Dairy Expo at nearly 15. And she produced her last few embryos in her final flush at over 16 years of age in 2015. Her lifetime total exceeds 400 regular embryos and 60 IVF.

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Of all her winnings on the colored shavings of Madison, most memorable for owner Allen Bassler was the 2013 Expo, where she competed as a dry cow to the applause
of the coliseum crowd.

aSnickerdoodle6411(Sherry)“She didn’t have an udder, she was there as a dry cow, and it was obvious that her work was complete,” Allen recalls. “The respect that she received that day was more than I realized, and it represented every year of building she had to get to that moment. Now her legacy lives on in her next generations.”

One of her A.I. sons, Supreme, was 2013 premier sire of the Expo’s Brown Swiss Show, and the sire of the grand champion Brown Swiss bred and owned by Wayne Sliker of Top Acres at this year’s show on Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Last classified EX-94 — the max for Brown Swiss of her time, which has since been increased — Snickerdoodle had a 97 point mammary. Two of the three EX-95 Brown Swiss in the U.S. today are daughters of her son Supreme.

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Snickerdoodle’s legacy extends well beyond her bannered trail and notable 8 times unanimous All-American status. She has over 100 offspring in the U.S. and additional offspring in at least 12 countries across the globe, including around 22 Excellent daughters in the U.S. today and 8 in Switzerland, that Allen knows of.

In Switzerland, alone, Snickerdoodle had 15 registered sons and 16 registered daughters as of 2015. They love her there. Allen is moved by the tributes from around the world to Snickerdoodle’s facebook page since her passing, and particularly the comments from people citing her as the reason they started in Swiss.

Uniquely a very strong cow, what Snickerdoodle has been famous for is her predictability.

aSnickerdoodle-SwissChamp2008“Her sons transmit her udder qualities,” Allen notes. “Supreme and Snic Pack are making the udders and strength that is Snickerdoodle. What was special about her is that she would respond to anything you challenged her with. There was always a character of strength about her, never timid or weak.

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In 2015, Snickerdoodle retired to Florida when Allen took the job as cheesemaker at Dakin Dairy near Sarasota. She survived Hurricane Irma a month ago, but when Bassler returned from judging shows in Brazil, he saw that his girl was reaching her “time.”

“She was in a pasture with weaned calves and loved that,” he said, noting she was slower to get up in recent weeks.

“Sunday and Monday, Tammy and I just prayed,” he said. “She passed peacefully on her own Monday night and is buried on the farm with a headstone under four oak
trees.”

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Blessings counted in Irma’s wake, challenges ahead

Damage to dairy buildings, but people safe, livestock losses minimal. Processing and distribution channels challenged. Biggest issues: Power. Fuel. Communications. 

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 (Photos courtesy of the dairies)

FLORIDA – “Four freestall barns are damaged, one completely collapsed, but amazingly not one cow was hurt. God had his hands on us,” said Jerry Dakin in a Farmshine phone interview Tuesday morning, 36 hours after Hurricane Irma hit Dakin Dairy, Myakka City, Florida, just 20 miles east of Sarasota as the eye wall nudged inland after traveling up the west coast of Florida to continue its trek up the center of the state. The more than 300-mile-wide hurricane — packing winds in excess of 100 mph — produced widespread damage as well as loss of power to over 5 million homes and businesses across the entire state of Florida and into Georgia and South Carolina.

The reports are still rolling in and the stories we heard are similar in the South — from the Rucks family of the Milking R in Okeechobee and Dakin Dairy in Manatee County, east to the Wrights in Hardee County — and north — at Alliance Dairies and North Florida Holsteins in Gilchrist County — all the way to Hillcrest Farms Inc. near Augusta, Georgia.

Dairy producers were in high gear preparing for Hurricane Irma last week, and while it appears that dairy buildings have sustained substantial damage throughout the Sunshine State and beyond, producers are counting their blessings in Irma’s wake: People are okay, livestock losses are minimal, second crop corn silage largely held its ground.

The most pressing concern in rural areas is the same as in urban — no power, limited supplies of fuel, spotty communication capabilities and a breakdown in the normal processing and distribution channels for food and other necessities, which means, for dairy farmers, where to go with the milk?

Of the four dairies interviewed early this week across a 250-mile stretch from South Florida to North ranging 1200 to 10,000 cattle and representing over 25,000 cows, just four animals were lost — a milk cow euthanized for injuries at one farm and three young heifers at another were found quite possibly hit by lightning or electrical shock. Among the social media posts of additional farms throughout the region were similar stories and responses of appreciation for the prayers and encouragement of others while focusing the first 24 to 36 hours post-Irma on getting generators going and getting cattle fed and milked and watered and then settling in to sort, evaluate and prioritize additional special needs.

Perhaps most important, however, are the stories of encouragement. Dakin said he spoke with fellow dairymen in a show of support before the storm and that it has been the encouragement of others “even folks from up north texting us and letting us know they are praying for us” that has gotten them through it.

“I have an unbelievable team of employees,” said Dakins of the over 60 employees who work for the dairy he built in 2001 and the dairy plant and store that were added in 2009.  “I am only one man, but it is this team of family and employees that is getting things done.”

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Dakin was feeling fortunate Tuesday morning after the cavalry arrived Monday night — five utility trucks got the dairy, and its milk plant and store, back on the power grid. Since then, the plant has worked overtime separating and pasteurizing milk for multiple cooperatives. In some cases, the skim is being dumped because milk channels are backed up due to plant, supermarket and school closures and other infrastructure issues.

“It’s a big deal to have our plant processing because we are able to unload tankers and get them back to farms,” he explains that they are processing 20 more loads than normal since the storm. “When it comes to a disaster like this, we’re all in this together.”

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They milked their own 2200 cows at 6 p.m. Sunday evening ahead of the storm, and then shut everything down, planning ahead to skip the night milking. They had boarded things up, pushed 1200 dry cows and heifers two miles away from buildings into pastures with wooded windbreaks, and parked large equipment all around the house where 25 family and crew hunkered down “like we were going to war.”

“We were so boarded up that we didn’t feel the true impact, until we opened a door, and it was wild. I decided not to walk outside, to stay calm, pray and rest because I knew there was nothing I could do during the storm and there would be a lot to do when the storm was over,” Dakin recounted.

The storm hit with all its fury at 10 p.m. Sunday evening. By 3:00 a.m. Monday morning, the winds were still blowing, but the core, or eye wall, had passed.

“I didn’t want to walk out of the house, scared about what I was going to see, but I knew I had to face it,” Dakin recounted. “I went straight for the barns, and I saw the buildings down and the cattle out where the gates were knocked down by the collapsed building. Cows were standing in the holding pen bellowing.”

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He cranked up the generator and got help and got to milking. He had already pulled grain concentrates from the ration in the days leading up to the storm to slow milk production, but even so, the pumps could not keep up with the initial milk flow after missing the night milking. “We couldn’t milk them fast enough,” Dakin related, adding that this is the first hurricane his farm has ever seen and that his brothers’ farms in the county were having similar experiences for the first time.

Northeast of Dakin, about 50 miles as the crow flies, Joe Wright was hunkered down at his dairy in Zolfo Springs. He was in the same closet in the same concrete building he took refuge in at the dairy during Hurricane Charley 13 years ago. Of the four hurricanes his farm has weathered, three were in 2004. Irma, the fourth, was second only to Charley in terms of its impact on Wright’s dairy, but he says Irma is the worst in its broad impact on his state and the region’s dairy industry.

Wright looked at the Weather Channel “spaghetti models” ahead of the storm and had a feeling it would track up the nearby Peace River, like Charley, so he didn’t let his guard down when he heard it was heading in a northwesterly direction. True enough. Once the eye wall got close to St. Petersburg, it’s northwest track bent east, putting the edge of the eye wall near Wright’s dairy. The structural damage to buildings tells the tale.

“Right now we are just milking and feeding and trying to return to some normalcy to begin evaluating cows,” he said, explaining that in 2004, they lost cows. The barn fell in on them when Charley came through. Since then, they have converted to modified grazing and so one of the things they did ahead of Irma was to intentionally push the cows out of the barns and lock them out and away from the buildings.

“We thought they would be better off in pasture, and it appears so because the roofs and ends of our freestall barns were just ripped off by Irma,” Wright said Tuesday from his son’s cell phone as they drove 100 miles for a backup generator after their primary generator sustained voltage issues that were impacting pumps and motors on the farm. Fielding a call from a roofer on his own phone, Wright said another pressing concern is getting a roof over the milking parlor, and if possible, the cattle working areas. “The rest of it will wait for winter.”

Confessing he hasn’t slept, really, since Friday or Saturday night and hasn’t been to his home 10 miles from the dairy, Wright shared that, three big oak trees were down at home that he couldn’t deal with. “My neighbors in town know what we’re up against with the dairy,” he said. “They came and cut them up and hauled them away. It’s hard for me to explain what that means. It’s uplifting.”

At Dakin Dairy, the milk cows had remained in the freestall barns, and survived. Dakin observed how difficult it had been to move 2200 cows from the barn to the milking parlor as the storm was within four hours of reaching them. They milked quickly and cows literally wanted to run back to their barns.

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Like Wright, Dakin did make the decision to move his pasture cattle away from buildings, and apart from clearing sheet metal and removing safety hazards around the collapsed areas of the barns, rebuilding will be put off until winter.

“We’ve got a month and a half yet of the real hot weather,” said Dakin. “If anyone is looking for construction work in sunny Florida this winter, we’ll have it.”

Another 180 miles north in Trenton and Bell, the Sunshine State’s two largest herds – Alliance Dairies and North Florida Holsteins – were also in line for hurricane force winds. By the time the eye had traveled inland those nearly 200 miles, Irma had been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane but still packed high winds, spin-off tornadoes and significant rainfall on the back edge.

“We survived it pretty well and have enough generator power to milk cows, cool milk and pump water. We’ve been able to keep enough manpower to get things done,” said Don Bennink of North Florida Holsteins in a phone interview Monday night from the darkness of his home without power. He was thankful to be just four hours behind in the milking schedule after hearing of others being as much as a full day behind and said all of the generator power is devoted to the dairy. His home can do without power for now.

“We got hit, but south Florida got nailed,” said Bennink. He had spent the days leading up to the storm making sure the generators were backed up and operable, having extra feed and fuel delivered and double checking everything he could think of.

“The worst of the storm, for us, was from 1:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Monday morning,” he said. “We shut down when it got bad and restarted Monday afternoon. We had a crew here because we provided shelter for a lot of our people.”

The dairy’s office, where the former milking parlor had previously stood, was sturdy, and 50 people, including employees and their families, weathered the storm there with provisions while the winds blew roofs and debris.

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Newborn calves at the time of the storm were stowed safely in the herdsman’s office near the calving area.

 

The storm had its impact. While the tunnel-ventilated barns for the milk cows are intact, the large tunnel fans were ripped apart. The estimated 20 inches of rain that fell in a short time at North Florida Holsteins created substantial flooding in the heifer yards.

“We expected this much wind, or more,” said Bennink, “But we did not expect this much water.”

Like the incidental reports from other dairies on social media that had found a few individual animal losses, Bennink said of the 10,000 head of cattle at North Florida Holsteins, three calves were lost.

He was counting his blessings Monday evening, and thankful for his “reliable people.”

Just west of Bell in Trenton, Florida, Jan Henderson at Alliance Dairies had spent the days leading up to the storm pleading with fuel suppliers to get fuel to them. “We wanted our tanks full for gasoline and diesel, and we even filled our choppers so we could siphon if needed,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. Being responsible for over 10,000 cattle between the main dairy and two grazing operations at other locations, Henderson relied on her managers, quarterbacked plays they had run through and filled in hands-on wherever she was needed.

“We tested our generators to operate under load and made sure our mobile generators were working. We had multiple meetings with our managers on the course of action to make sure cows get milked and fed and youngstock get watered and fed,” she explained.

Before the storm, Henderson was in people prep mode, bringing in plenty of food and energy drinks for employees. Once the storm hit, she was communicating with managers and filling in the gaps on shifts bringing cows to the parlor.

“We are very blessed that Irma weakened from its earlier strength, and we had already determined we would go to 2x milking the day of the storm. We kept going until 6 p.m. when everyone needed to be wherever they were going to shelter,” she said, noting that Saturday’s crew was smaller than normal, and managers from all areas of the farming enterprise helped cover milking shifts — hunkering down at the dairy.

Two days after the storm, one of their grazing dairies has power and the other is still waiting. Alliance Dairies, where 5200 cows are milked, is expected to be without power until next week.

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“We are able to milk and cool milk, and we can provide water, but we are not able to operate our fans,” said Henderson. “It was cool and comfortable the day after the storm, but the heat and humidity is returning.”

“We have very committed people here, and I am awestruck by what our people have been able to do,” said Henderson.

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Like most dairies in Florida right now, they have milk accumulating on trailers with 10 full trailers sitting as of Tuesday morning. One of the grazing dairies was completely full when two milk trucks pulled in, one without a trailer and the other with an empty trailer just in time on Tuesday morning.

While most of the plants are closed and reopening on differing schedules, Henderson notes the power outages and evacuations mean that, “There are 6 million fewer people drinking milk right now, so processors are not feeling the need to process milk.”

Bennink also noted that as processors have been closed with two to three days of milk in silos, milk is also backing up on farms with no place to go.

“It will go from one extreme to the other. When they start needing milk again, they won’t be able to get it fast enough, but we can’t just hold it for them. They will want fresh milk,” he explained, adding that while the coop management is doing a “fantastic job” handling this difficult situation, there will be milk dumped in Florida.

“There’s a lot of milk out there (nationally), and we don’t have the over-order premiums we used to have here, so we’re not going to get sympathy from our customers over the costs our cooperative has to bear to deal with the situation,” Wright observes, adding that in addition to fuel shortages, milk transportation is also hampered by availability of trailers and the ability to wash them down.

More will be known in the coming week, but the Southeast dairy producers will bear the brunt of the costs of handling these issues and it’s unclear what insurances may or may not cover such market conditions that are exacerbated by a natural disaster.

Fuel shortages, plant closures, power outages and evacuations have changed the dynamics in the region.”

Dakin’s plant and a Dean’s plant are currently operating. Some plants are flooded, others have generator problems and some are light on staff to operate. Supermarkets are also having refrigeration and power generation issues.

Restoration of power and fuel to the area will go a long way to immediate needs in this recovery.

Notes Henderson: “You prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and we certainly got a little of both. It was bad enough, but if it had not weakened from earlier forecasts, I don’t want to think about what we might be seeing.”

Wright observes the basics: “If we have feed, fuel and a generator, we can get through this. If we get power, we can do a lot of this cleanup. But without power, it wears on you, and it’s tough on the equipment with the voltages.”

Bennink said it will be a long while for the state of Florida to pick up the pieces, and yet he was feeling fortunate to have his people around and to be able to provide food and shelter during the storm. “One hand washes the other,” he said.

Adds Dakin: “Prayers lifted us up. It is amazing to hear from people in so many other states and to know they have been praying for us down here.”

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Road to recovery

KansasFire4.jpgBy Sherry Bunting April 7, 2017

If there is one thing to come down the road of recovery from a tragedy in agriculture, it is the sense of community that agriculturalists make business-as-usual. It is the matter-of-fact way in which people are prompted to help each other, and the humility with which help is offered that allows proud and self-reliant fellow farmers and ranchers to accept.

All know that livelihoods and legacies are on the line, pending the external forces that cannot be controlled, and that, in an instant, a storm, fire, or other natural disaster could change everything.

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While driving through Ashland and Englewood, Kansas on Saturday heading back to Pennsylvania from other work in the Midwest, the post-wildfire realities stretched for miles.

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Intermittent wheat pasture is credited with saving hundreds of lives.

It was a rain-soaked day, just what the land needs to recover. New life was springing forth, adding lushness to the intermittent wheat pastures that had provided refuge – credited with saving hundreds of human and animal lives as they interrupted the fires that spread rapidly through the dry grasslands and provided a safe haven for evacuees when roads were blocked during the fire.

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Timely rains are softening the charred lands with emerging hints of green, red and gold, framing the wildfire zones as the Painter slowly re-fills this empty palette. Residents say that the rain has helped a lot, and the grasses will explode within the next two weeks in some areas. The hay being sent has been a godsend. And the move by the Trump administration to authorize emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas – the three states which were most heavily impacted by ongoing wildfires – will help.

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But it is the Sandhills of southwest Kansas that catch your breath. The Starbuck fire — that claimed over 500,000 of the total 711,000 acres burned in Kansas the first week of March — had burned so hot, sinking down through the sandy soil like a sponge, that many wonder if the grasslands will come back more than spotty at best in areas where windswept sand dunes present a desert-like appearance. There are areas with nothing on top, leading to lingering concerns about feeding surviving cattle.

Firefighters noted this was unlike anything they had seen in their 20 to 30 years. They described driving 60 to 70 mph, and being outrun by the fast-moving fire, seeing it move right past them.

Only time will tell how some of the acres will respond to the timely rains.

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One thing is for certain, the help of fellow farmers and ranchers via donations of hay, fencing supplies, work crews, orphaned calf care, and fundraising — all of it represent blessings beyond measure.

As Ashland resident Rick Preisner put it: “Everyone here was shell-shocked at first. Everything changed in an instant. It was difficult to know where to start. Then the help came pouring in and it lifted this community up.”

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Ashland is ‘home’ for Roddy Strang with sister Rhonda at Gardiner Angus, where their father worked 26 years.

“No one here is saying no to the hay that’s been coming,” said Roddy Strang. “They know they will need feed for a while here.” Strang trains horses and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and children, but he grew up in Ashland around the Gardiner Angus Ranch, where his father worked for 26 years.

Not only did he fill his livestock trailer with 250 compact alfalfa bales and some fencing for the trip “home” to the annual Gardiner Angus production sale Saturday (April 1), he helped connect the dots for Lancaster County dairy farmer Aaron Hess of Hess Dairy in Mount Joy and his neighbor Arlyn Martin. Martin drove the 1500 miles last week with a load of 36 large square bales from Hess, along with 1800 fence posts and 91 rolls of barbed wire the men procured with funds they had raised and with many companies offering equipment and supplies free or with discounts.

They worked with Kevin Harrop, of Harrop Hay and Bale, Exton. Harrop grew up on a dairy farm and today runs a hay brokering and custom harvesting business in southeast Pennsylvania. Between Harrop and James Hicks of Meadow Springs Farm, they filled another truck with 42 large square bales. Harrop and Martin set out for Kansas early last week, delivered the hay and fencing to Ashland Cooperative Feed and Seed by Wednesday, and were home by Saturday.

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For Strang, the mission was personal. He stayed for the Gardiner Angus sale Saturday, where a few cows were purchased for the return trip to Virginia.

For those involved with the donations from southeast Pennsylvania — as for the numerous others organizing convoys over the past three weeks from Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, northwest Pennsylvania, and more — the mission to bring hay to fire-torn regions in four states was something they didn’t really think twice about. And it is something they don’t want recognition for.

The only fanfare being given to these hay donations is the sentiment of “God Bless America.” As Harrop explains it: “We saw it the Facebook posts, and we knew people out there, so we called to see what was going on and to figure out exactly what they would need,” he said in a phone call from the road last week.

Harrop put it best when he explained that people helping out do not want publicity or pats on the back for their own sakes, but they sure don’t mind if others share and publicize what they are doing for the sake of showing the world how farmers and ranchers network and move forward to get things done.

“In a small way, we just want to help keep this network going,” said Harrop. “The need is great in the wildfire zone. The mainstream media and the government are ignoring this. Farmers all over the country have responded.”

In fact, hundreds of trucks with hay and fencing and other needed supplies have poured into the affected areas of southwest Kansas, eastern Colorado and the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle region. While some areas are saying they have enough hay, for now, southwest Kansas is particularly hard hit in this regard, and people are thankful for the trucks that continue to come – 200 of them, in fact, last Saturday, alone. The list of states represented is too numerous to be sure to acknowledge them all. Relief organizers say they have received calls from over 20 states. Plans are also underway for moving 1000 large bales that have been donated in Greene and Washington counties, Pennsylvania in the near future.
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“That is their lives out there. That’s what they do, and it’s not like they have a lot to fall back on,” said Aaron Hess after securing a load of large bale hay from his dairy onto Arlyn Martin’s truck. “I was just seeing the posts on Facebook, so I called up the Ashland co-op and they put me in touch with the guy in charge. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Teams of volunteers have helped remove damaged fencing. Crews, tools and materials to re-fence perimeters are the priority now.

Strang notes that the recipients are amazed by the outpouring of people wanting to come out to the middle of nowhere and help. “It is emotional,” he admitted. “There are some good people in a bad way. They aren’t going to ask for the help, but we see the need and we know if it were us, they would help.”

Even in this time when agriculture is taking such a severe economic hit, people step up. That’s how agriculture rolls.

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(Above) “From the Ashes” artwork displayed Saturday by Joel Milford of Fowler, Kansas from a photo captured by Cole Gardiner as he found this cow and her newborn calf a day or two after the fire. Milford’s painting was auctioned Saturday during the Gardiner Angus production sale, raising $35,000 and prints are still being sold for $200 each to benefit the wildfire relief efforts of the Ashland Community Foundation. Nearly 100 prints have been sold thus far. To purchase a print for wildfire relief, contact Jan Endicott, at the Stockgrowers Bank in Ashland, Kansas at jan@stockgrowersbank.com or 620-635-4032. Prints are $200 plus $15 shipping and 6.5% Kansas state sales tax. 

How you can help

Wildfire relief organizers are indicating that the best way for distant donors to help is to provide monetary donations for transporting nearby hay and resources to the areas affected by the wildfires.

Supplies and funding for the volunteer care of orphaned calves is also requested. Follow the progress of 4-Hers and other volunteers caring for these calves at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas.

In addition, auctions are being organized to benefit wildfire funds. For example, a heifer donated by Oklahoma West Livestock Market was auctioned 105 times on March 8 to garner $115,449 with proceeds going to the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief Fund. Similar ideas are creating a ripple response throughout the agriculture community and can be replicated anywhere. Visit Livestock Marketing Association  for these auction notes and efforts.

Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize this idea to fund the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the fire-ravaged areas of the High Plains through means of raising cash. For information about how to participate in this and to find a list of upcoming auctions, as well as how to set one up, contact Trent Loos at (515) 418-8185.

To give supplies and trucking or to donate funds to foundations for direct wildfire relief, contact the state-by-state resources below.

Kansas

Monetary donations: Ashland Community Foundation/Wildfire Relief Fund at www.ashlandcf.com or P.O. Box 276, Ashland, KS 67831. The Kansas Livestock Association/Wildfire Relief Fund at 6031 SW 37th St., Topeka, KS 66614.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Call Ashland Feed and Seed at (620) 635-2856. (Ashland Feed and Seed is also taking credit card orders over the phone for feed and milk replacer or other supplies for ranchers in the area.)

Texas

Monetary donations: Texas Department of Agriculture STAR Fund.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Ample hay has been received for two to three weeks, so call to see if and when more is needed. Fencing supplies are needed, which can go to the Agrilife supply points. Contacts are J.R. Sprague at (806) 202-5288 for Lipscomb, Mike Jeffcoat at (580) 467-0753 for Pampa, and Andy Holloway at (806) 823-9114 for Canadian.

For questions about donations or relief efforts, contact Texas A&M Extension at (806) 677-5628.

Colorado

Monetary donations: Colorado Farm Bureau Foundation Disaster Fund at 9177 E. Mineral Circle, Centennial, CO 80112 and visit http://coloradofarmbureau.com/disasterfund/

Hay, trucking and fencing: Contact Kent Kokes (970) 580-8108, John Michal (970) 522-2330, or Justin Price (970) 580-6315.

Oklahoma

Monetary donations: Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief at P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148 or www.okcattlemen.org.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Contact Harper County Extension at (580) 735-2252 or Buffalo Feeders at (580) 727-5530.

Other states organizing deliveries

Several states outside of the wildfire area are organizing assistance and deliveries. Find those resources at http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanking the Milkshake Man for his heart of gold

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Waiting in the wings so as not to spoil the surprise, Dave Smith’s family was on hand to celebrate the ‘milkshake man’s passion, dedication and commitment to Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers and the next generation, which earned him the unanimous appreciation of his peers in the form a special Golden Milkshake award. Not only have the milkshake sales helped get fresh milk into the hands less fortunate but also helped the Dairymen’s Assn give $1 million in grants over the last 15 years for programs geared for the next generation of dairy farmers. Dave and wife Sharon are flanked by son Joel (left) and daughter Erin and her husband Aaron Wachter. 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 17, 2017

LANCASTER, Pa. — Leaders of the Center for Dairy Excellence (CDE), Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) pulled off a surprise honorary service award during the 2017 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit here at the Lancaster Marriott last Wednesday evening, February 8.

Dave Smith, known practically everywhere as ‘the milkshake man’ was presented a special Golden Milkshake award for his dedication and commitment to Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.

Not only has Dave been the driving force behind the ubiquitous Pennsylvania Dairymen’s milkshake sales, and more recently fried mozzarella cubes, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show and other venues, he was instrumental in the launch of the Fill a Glass with Hope campaign — facilitating dairy relationships with Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and Feeding Pennsylvania to raise money to put fresh milk in food banks across the state.

dave-smith6637A surprised and humbled Dave Smith was speechless at first, but quickly took the podium to say:

“You dairy farmers are truly the reason for the success of the milkshakes.

“This is your product. You work hard to make a quality product. Consumers want what you have.”

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Dave (left) was lauded by his peers Don Risser (second left), president of the CDE Foundation, Doug Harbach (right), president of PDMP and Reid Hoover (second right), president of the Pa. Dairymen’s Association for his continual focus on improving the state’s dairy industry for future generations through promotion and combining this with avenues for getting dairy into the hands of those less fortunate.

In addition to serving as the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association executive director since 1995 and serving on the board for six additional years, Dave has been active in leadership with Young Farmer’s, 4-H dairy club and 4-H dairy judging as well as being an active member of Lebanon County Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania Guernsey Breeders’ Association.

“Dave has given tirelessly to our organization and its mission for the past 22 years,” said Hoover, who credited his oversight with the Association’s success in selling milkshakes and dairy foods at the Farm Show. “Dave is continually looking ahead to find new markets for fluid milk and to put milk in the hands of those who need it most.”

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Dave shows the mozzarella blocks bought and cut into cubes for Farm Show fried cheese cubes. In 2014, Dave estimated the Dairymen’s Assn moved 3 tons of mozzarella in 8 days in this delicious Farm Show treat that is only growing in popularity at Farm Show since then.

Through expansion and new product introduction, gross sales have been increased approximately 500% in 15 years, allowing for $1 million in grants to be distributed to dairy and agriculture programs focusing on next generation development.

“We appreciate Dave’s active promotion and advocacy for dairy youth,” said Risser. “We are incredibly grateful for his efforts that bring success to these programs.”

Recently, Dave has been working out the details for the Calving Corner, a cow birthing center that will be part of the 2018 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

The fourth generation of his dairy farm family, Dave grew up raising and caring for the Guernsey herd in Annville, received his B.S. in Dairy Science from Virginia Tech and co-managed the farm with his father for a number of years, including the former dairy store where Ja-Mar Dairy’s milk was processed, bagged and sold until the late 1980s.

Today, the milk cows are gone, but Dave and his son Joel raise 140 head of cattle and farm 400 acres of ground.

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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

Dec. 16 emergency herd dispersal follows tornado’s destruction; Tenn. recovering from wildfires/tornadoes

 

 

ATHENS, Tenn. — While the Governor of Tennessee seeks a presidential disaster declaration for five counties hit by fire and storm November 30th, communities continue to work through the daunting task of cleanup, assessments, recovery and rebuilding.

The Southeast drought that had persisted from summer through fall fueled fires across six states, most notably Tennessee’s Great Smokey Mountains.

In the overnight hours of November 30, the Smokey Mountain fires went rampant as 80 mph winds drove a firestorm that created eight new fires by the next morning.

The front of moisture that eventually carried enough rain to quell fires to 50% containment was preceded by a 40-mile line of tornadoes and high winds. Worst hit in these storms was the community of Athens, Tennessee, near the original Mayfield Dairy Farm.

That rain was the first substantial rain since mid-June, according to University of Tennessee extension reports. But it had its impact after the fires first engulfed Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Lives were lost, injuries sustained, and homes and businesses destroyed.

Among the losses, Eastanallee Dairy Farm, owned by Blan and Kathy Dougherty, sustained destruction of its barns and milking facilities. The local community came to their aid.

According to Julie Walker, AgriVoice, “a great group of folks with animal and farm experience got first things done first. It was obvious the milk barn, and housing and feeding facilities received the brunt of the hit, and cows were not going to be able to be milked. Unfortunately, six just-weaned calves were killed,” she explained in a e-news post. “Steve Harrison, a neighbor to the Doughertys, generously agreed to temporarily house the cows until some decisions about the herd’s future could be determined.”

Last week, the Doughertys decided to have an emergency milking herd and bred heifer dispersal sale set for tomorrow — Friday, December 16 at 12 Noon — at the Athens Stockyards with basically just time for word of mouth and digital/social media advertisement.

It is hard enough to contemplate a dispersal of a dairy herd, and even tougher to do so under these circumstances. The Eastanallee herd is among the highest producing herds in Tennessee. A total of 114 milk cows and 15 bred heifers due through March will be offered. They will keep the yearlings and young stock as they evaluate their future, which may or may not include milking once again.

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There was a massive amount of property damage on their farmstead, and while their home was damaged, the Doughertys are thankful to have not lost their home, as have many of their neighbors nearby.

Getting ready for the sale, some culling has already taken place:  cows with breeding problems, mobility problems, and low production have already been sold.  Animals selling will be sound.  A sale catalog has been created by Ag Central Co-op, click here to view it.

We wish the Doughertys well, and our thoughts and prayers remain with the Athens community and all affected in East Tennessee. Many are homeless and services are taxed after the wildfire / tornado disasters in the counties of Coffee, McMinn, Polk, Sequatchie and Sevier for which the Governor requested this week a presidential disaster declaration.

Below are some links to two of the wildfire and tornado relief efforts.

 

 

Tennessee 4-H Wildfire Relief

Tornado Relief through United Way