By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, January 5, 2018
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Out with the old. In with the new. Record-smashing snowfalls and a relentless deep-freeze, that is what’s new as 2017 gave way to 2018 this week under a very bitter ‘wolf-moon’. The onslaught of extreme temps, high winds and heavy precipitation are taking their toll on dairy farms from New England to Georgia and from Pennsylvania to South Dakota.
In addition to bitter cold temperatures — persisting for four to five days with a one- to two-day ‘break’ at midweek — the next round of snowfall is already traveling up the coast and across the lakes ahead of another steep temperature plunge in the forecast.
Meanwhile, northwest Pennsylvania is still digging out of its record-breaking snowfall at Christmas, just ahead of the extreme drop in temps.
The Christmas Day lake-effect snowstorm lasted 48 hours and dumped a record-breaking 53 inches of snow in Erie, Pennsylvania, with additional snowfall two days later for a 4-day total of 63 inches. This eclipsed every snowfall record for the state of Pennsylvania, according to the National Weather Service.
The biggest problems being seen on dairy farms are from the bitter temperatures — ranging on the mechanical side from gummed up diesel fuel to the inability to move manure and problems keeping milking system vacuum pumps and compressors running.
On the animal side, cattle and youngstock losses are being reported as well as frostbite concerns. These types of concerns are mostly reported in the areas along the great lakes from upstate New York to Minnesota, where temperatures hit -15 to -30 – not including the wind chills.
Milk is still moving from farms to plants, but delays are indicated this midweek where transportation has been slowed by problems with diesel fuel.
In its fluid milk summary this week, USDA reported that frigid temperatures throughout the East have created hauling delays, and frozen pipes have created issues at dairy manufacturing plants. This has added to the supply-demand imbalance that lingers from the holiday period.
Everyone from plant operators to farmers to haulers are yearning for a return to normal schedules that may not normalize until after the second round of arctic blast comes and goes next week.
Impacts on milk production in the Northeast and Midwest are also beginning to show up in load counts, but the lack of normalcy in milk movement means production is still steady to ample for usage.
On farms, producers are dealing with frozen pipes, slippery floors, frozen accumulated manure creating uneven walking surfaces, and the fact that everything — including moving cows to and from the parlor — takes more time.
Producers need a break in the weather to thaw out, clean out, and get ready for the next round of arctic air to hit.
In closed group discussions throughout social media, farmers are exchanging ideas and seeking support from each other — to know they are not dealing with these hardships alone.
The extreme cold has also increased the risk of fires as producers pull out the stops to keep animals warm and power infrastructures are tested to the max. A dairy outside Little Falls, New York experienced a tragic fire last weekend, in which all 50 cows were lost.
At midweek, temperatures climbed briefly, but snow has begun falling in earnest along the southeast coast where snow is seldom seen, while the Northeast coast braces for blizzard conditions with more snow and high winds, followed by a plunge back into low temperatures.
It is not an understatement to say that dairy producers everywhere are dealing with weather extremes that are testing their collective resolve. Whether it is 17 degrees in Texas or -30 in western Minnesota, -15 in upstate New York and New England, -3 in Kentucky or -1 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the extremes are beyond what each area is typically prepared for. Producers are taking advantage of any temporary warmth to prepare for the next plunge.
Frozen waterers, vacuum pumps, manure removal equipment and difficulty starting feeding equipment are most commonly reported concerns shared by producers across the country in facebook posts.
Some asked for prayers this week, hoping for a break in the weather; others rejoiced with humor when 30 degrees below zero became 15 degrees above at midweek, saying ‘break out the shorts.’
But this respite is short-lived before the next mercury dive Friday through Monday.
Winter is tough, and farmers are prepared for it, but this is extreme, and there is only so much that can be prevented. What does not get prevented, must be dealt with as it happens, and this is causing frustration and low morale as producers strive to get the work done while also fighting the feeling of failing the cows.
You are not failing. You are heroes. Please be careful out there.
Bottom line for the cattle, say veterinarians, is plenty of feed and water and to be out of the wind with a dry place to lie down. These basics enable cows to survive a lot.
Dairies truly are in survival mode, focused diligently on animal care and getting done what must be done and no more.
Keeping waterers from freezing and breaking ice out of waterers that are frozen is a never-ending job in these temperatures.
For calves, experts suggest increasing milk feeding and frequency since they do not have a rumen to heat them up. This will help calves stay warm and cope with the stress. But it’s difficult to do more when temps make everything take longer. Please be careful.
For cows, the mantra is energy and more energy. Rations can be adjusted to dense up that energy, without losing fiber. Cows normally eat more when it is cold, getting more energy into the cows helps.
From farmers to truckers to veterinarians to dairy system technicians and to all who are taking care of animals, equipment and transportation — we at Farmshine see and know how hard you work to keep things going. You have our ultimate respect and our prayers for safety during the bitter cold and we wish for a warming break in the weather to take hold soon.
From East to West and North to South, relentless frigid temperatures are making things difficult on dairy farms. Photos by Sherry Bunting