Unexpected blizzard kills over 1,800 dairy cows in Washington state

Deadly aftermath of winter storm was double-whammy for already struggling dairy farmers

Sarah Harvard
New York
Thursday 14 February 2019 23:55
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Footage shows how dairy cows are separated from their calves for milk production

An unexpected day-long blizzard has killed more than 1,800 dairy cows among dozens of farms in Washington state.

The snowstorm, carrying heavy winds ranging from 30 to 80 miles per an hour and resulting in 18 to 24 inches of snow, on Saturday devastated dairy farmers in the Yakima Valley, severely impacting their livelihood.

Since the region is typically arid, the dairy farms are built with open lots or open-sided shelters to house house the cows. In other words, since the region typically only gets six to eight inches of rain annually, cows are kept in shelters without walls, leaving them in blindsided without time or resources to prepare for the unanticipated brutal blizzard.

“Cows were huddled in, pressed up against each other in corners of pens and refused to move. Farmers couldn’t get them to move into milking barns. Herd instinct,” Gerald Baron, executive director of Save Family Farming, a farm advocacy group, told the Capital Press. “Most cows died from injuries from each other and some from cold exposure. They went down and couldn’t get up.”

Farmers say that about 28 cows were injured and are expected to be euthanised.

With the current economy and market trends, farmers are already struggling to stay afloat. The loss of their prime livestock wil is another devastating cost to their business.

“Each cow could be worth $2,000, so we’re looking at $3.2 million plus future production loss, but right now the bigger impact is a huge emotional loss to farmers,” Dan Wood, executive director of Washington State Dairy Federation, told the newspaper.

Despite the hazardous weather conditions, Mr Wood said that farmers did their absolute best to try and protect and the cows.

“Farmers put up hay bales for wind barriers and tried to do what they could. Farmers were out there in zero degrees or less with wind chill, risking their lives to save cattle,” he added.

In the last 17 years, Jason Sheehan operated a dairy farm with about 5,000 cattle in the valley. The blizzard on Saturday killed 200 of them, serving as a huge blow to his livelihood.

“It’s been four years of thin margins and losses,” Mr Sheehan, who employs 35 people on his farm, told NBC News. “We’ve been struggling financially for four years, and now Mother Nature is throwing another twist. It’s a tough time to take this on.”

Moreover, Farmers do not have the luxury of time to mourn and recuperate recuperating from their devastating losses. Kimmi Devaney, director of community relations for the Dairy Farmers of Washington, said that this something amiss in the media coverage and reactions to the deadly winter storm last week.

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“What people are hearing about right now is the devastation caused by the storm, but what they don’t realize is that these farms have to keep running,” Ms Devaney said.

If anything, the dairy farmer advocate said the aftermath of the storm proves the soul and dedication farmers put into their trade.

“It really showcases the spirit of the dairy community that farmers who weren’t heaviest hit have come out to help those who are in hard times.”

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