Southwest dairies hit hard by Goliath

Winter Storm Goliath packed a powerful punch to the heart of the Texas and New Mexico dairy industries that will be felt well into the future.

Winter Storm Goliath packed a powerful punch to the heart of the Texas dairy industry that will be felt well into the future, from a reduction in the state’s milk supply to dairy financial losses to the emotional impact on farmers of losing their animals, according to Darren Turley, executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD).

New Mexico dairies were also hit hard but specific losses were still in the process of being determined.

“Like all agriculture, dairy producers always operate at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Turley said. “With Goliath, she dealt a particularly harsh and costly blow to the area’s dairy producers, from the death of thousands of livestock they spend so much time caring for to a loss of milk production both over the weekend and in the future.”

It wasn’t until this past Tuesday that many dairy producers in the primary impact area – from Lubbock west to Muleshoe and north to Friona (roughly areas south of Interstate 40) – were able to safely walk among their cows and survey the situation, said Turley, who has talked to many of the producers in the region.

Turley estimates the region – which includes half of the state’s top 10 milk producing counties – is home to about 36% of the state’s dairy cows, or an estimated 142,800 cows. He estimates that the blizzard killed about 5% of mature dairy cows and an as-yet unknown number of calves and heifers. As producers are able to fully examine their herds, Turley estimates losses will continue to climb.

“The immediate challenge is how to handle these sudden, massive losses of animals,” Turley said. “The ordinary methods for disposal cannot handle the volume of deaths we are seeing from this storm. The TAD is working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and other agencies to determine how the animals can be disposed of both quickly and safely.”

In addition, TAD is working with the Texas Governor’s Office, the Texas Department of Agriculture and other state and federal agencies to determine whether financial assistance is available for impacted dairy producers.

Turley warned that the storm will have a lingering effect on the state’s milk supply. During the storm, weather conditions and road closures both kept dairy employees, who normally milk the animals twice a day, and tanker trucks, which transport the milk from dairy to processor, from reaching farms. Not only were hundreds of loads of milk ready for processing wasted, but, on some farms, cows went almost two days without being milked, Turley said.

“When a dairy cow goes that long without being milked, her milk supply starts to dry up,” Turley said. “That means the dairy cows in this region will give less milk for months to come. Less milk going to market will be felt by consumers, as well as by dairy farmers.”

Dairy farmers in Clovis, N.M., also were hit hard. Authorities estimate thousands of cows will be lost there because of the storm. Robert Hagevoort, a dairy extension agent in the area, said that while hard to quantify, he estimates about 5% death loss on milking cows and double that on young stock.

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