Central California Dairies Soaked by Record Rains

December 21, 2010 09:27 AM

Calif Dec 2010 rains   12 2Record rains this week in California’s Central Valley are likely to cause milk production to drop and mastitis cases to increase, especially among open-lot dairies, several sources said Tuesday.

At his open-lot dairy south of Bakersfield where he milks 2,800 cows, Darrell Vanden Berge expects his daily per-cow milk production to drop 5 to 6 pounds. He’s also waiting for a rise in mastitis cases.

“Cows are standing right now but when they get tired, they’re going to lie down,” said Vanden Berge.  “We’ll get hit harder then.” He expects to see 80 to 90 cows in his hospital barn in the coming days.

Water in feed lanes and wet feed kept some cows from eating, although some dairies were bolstering feeding times to three a day, up from two.  Cows’ exposure to mud-borne pathogens is the main culprit behind the expected mastitis cases.

“We’ve had to get a lot of pumps” to remove standing water, Vanden Berge added, “and that’s an extra cost.”

John Van der Poel operates a freestall operation near Wasco, Calif., about 30 miles northwest of Bakersfield. With his 1,700 milking cows housed under roof, he wasn’t worried about his herd standing in water.  “With all the money invested in a freestall barn, when it rains, we sure appreciate it,” he said.

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Van der Poel was more concerned about excess water and his dairy’s capacity to handle it. He was busy Tuesday moving the excess water to irrigate his fields.  “Our lagoon’s filling up and we’ve got to deal with it,” Van der Poel said.

Perry Tjaarda says his open-lot dairy near Shafter, Calif., about 20 miles northwest of Bakersfield, was designed with adequate slope for water run-off, leaving cows on dry ground.  “Our biggest problem was having our power go out Friday night,” Tjaarda said.  “That put us six to seven hours behind schedule.”

Southern Tulare County has received 6 inches of rain since late Friday, leaving “fields flooded everywhere,” said Tom Barcellos, who operates an open-lot dairy near Porterville. Production among his 800 milking cows had dropped 2% since Dec. 17.

“We had our lagoon pumped all the way down, so we’re OK,” he said. “But everybody has pumps going and is recycling water to their fields.”

Tuesday saw a break in the rain but more storms are forecast for later this week.

In Bakersfield, at the southern end of the Valley, heavy non-stop rains since late Friday have caused flooding in rural areas as well as city streets. The area has received triple its normal amount of rain for the season. 

The Bakersfield Californian reported Tuesday that Bakersfield has seen the wettest December on record, reaching 4.32 inches. The previous high for December rainfall had been 2.98 inches in 1931. Normal rainfall for the season, which began Nov. 1, is 1.55 inches. For the season, Bakersfield has received 5.75 inches.

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