Parts of the Southwest were hammered with snow over the weekend thanks to winter storm Goliath. Dairy farmers in Clovis, N.M., are still digging out even though the snow has stopped. Authorities estimate thousands of cows will be lost because of the storm.
Robert Hagevoort is a dairy Extension agent in the area with New Mexico State University. He says quantifying cow losses at this time is tough, but he estimates about 5% death loss on milking cows and double that on young stock.
“Consider our average herd size is 2,300 cows, and we’ve got 150 dairies in our area,” he explains. “At 5% loss, that’s more than 20,000 cows.”
Total losses won’t be known until farmers finish digging cows out of snow drifts, Hagevoort says.
“Cows have literally been buried alive for two days” he says. “Some of them are alive when they are found, and some of them aren’t.”
Although New Mexico has declared a state of emergency, Hagevoort says, FSA is the only agency that will be able to offer farmers financial relief.
Andle van der Ploeg, owner of Mid-Frisian Dairy, milks 1,800 cows six miles outside of Clovis. Van der Ploeg moved to America from the Netherlands in 2003 and says this is the worst snow storm he’s seen. He says snow drifts on his farm are 14 feet high in spots.
“You can walk right over the top of a trailer house,” he says. “I had heifers walk right over the fence and out of the pen.”
He has lost no milking cows and only a few really young calves, he says, meaning the operation has fared better than many neighboring farms. That's true in spite of the fact Mid-Frisian Dairy had to dump two days’ worth of milk when the truck couldn’t make it on the snow-covered roads.
At Southwest Cheese, among the largest cheese plants in the U.S., team members only took 10% of their normal milk Monday.
This tractor was stolen and used to get a stuck vehicle out before it got stuck as well.
To the east, the story is much the same. About 1 foot of snow is in the fields, but drifts are as tall as barns. The vander Dussens of Rajen Dairy milk 10,000 cows at three facilities between Clovis and Portales. Tara vander Dussen says at last count they had lost about 100 cows. They, too, were forced to dump milk for about 38 hours.
Employees stayed put, she says. Night-shift workers who came to milk Saturday night never left, and vander Dussen's husband and his brothers came to relieve them. The family housed employees and made sure everyone on the farm had clean clothes and three hot meals a day.
“I did lots of laundry for the guys while they were sleeping,” she says. “I gave them my husband’s clothes so they had something warm and dry.”
Tractors such this one have been deployed to dig out animals and clean up snow drifts.
Bart van der Ploeg removes snow from the feed lane.