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Florida dairies endure another hurricane season

00:00AM Sep 02, 2008
Rick Lundquist

Florida dairy producers are a hardy bunch. A brutal summer climate that would overwhelm many dairy producers is just a part of life on a Florida dairy.

This week the country is watching Gustav and Hannah, but two weeks ago, tropical storm Fay made an unprecedented four landfalls in the Sunshine State. As it came ashore in Southwest Florida and slowly wound toward Okeechobee, it fooled the meteorologists.  By the time it reached the dairies in Okeechobee it had winds of 69 mph. The slow moving storm dumped over 16 inches of rain on the farms – horizontally.

Woody Larson, owner of Family Tree Dairies told me it was an odd storm, because they were forecasting it to weaken over land, but it actually picked up steam. They still had power at their house, so they watched on TV as the eye passed right over them. At 69 mph, the cabbage palms were bent at right angles. Then a perfect eye passed over and the Spanish moss hung absolutely still from the live oaks under beautiful blue skies until the back half of the storm arrived, bending all the trees in the opposite direction.

Fay wasn't a big storm by Florida standards. My Florida clients know how to prepare. But no power for two days under oppressive heat takes its toll. No fans to cool the cows. Roads between the barns washed out. Freestalls soaked due to the horizontal rain blowing through the barns. 

Larson's lost over 40 calves because they were soaked with rain for two days. Feed in the commodity barns got drenched. Feed troughs filled with water. Then after the storm left, the standing water with over 95 degree heat made for unbearable humidity and heat stress. It also bred swarms of mosquitoes.

Still, the cows held up and bounced back remarkably well. August is over, so only two more months of Florida summer. Fay brought back memories of hurricanes Francis and Jeanne just four years ago. Those were big storms. Sustained winds of 100 mph blew for over 24 hours as the eyes of these storms moved slowly over the dairies.

For a look back at Jacob Larson's account of dealing with those hurricanes click here.

--Rick Lunquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at

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