Blizzard kills dairy cows

Cows rest comfortably at Jason Sheehan’s dairy near Sunnyside, Wash., on Feb. 11. Blizzard conditions Feb. 9 caused the deaths of more than 1,800 dairy cows in the area.

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. — Most of the carcasses of 1,810 dairy cows that died in a Feb. 9 blizzard have been dealt with but owners will be coping with financial losses for months to come.

“It will take some guys months to recover because some of them were already operating at break-even,” said Steve George, Yakima area issues manager for the Washington State Dairy Federation. He said he hasn’t heard of any going out of business, yet.

An initial estimate was 1,677 dead cows but the final tally is 1,810 with probably several hundred others being sold for beef because of frozen udders and extremities, George said. Effects from that can take up to a month to be known, he said.

At $2,000 per head, total loss will be around $4 million, and that doesn’t count lost milk production.

George said he doesn’t know of anyone tallying lost milk production. He said it will be months before some of the dairies are able to afford replacement cows since all operate with loans and didn’t have this type of event budgeted.

Some 13 to 15 dairies near Sunnyside lost cows, with the most at one dairy being about 600, he said.

Seven of the dairies gave notice of loss to the USDA Farm Service Agency office in Yakima as of Feb. 15 and the rest are expected to soon, said Gerri Richter, FSA program specialist in Spokane.

Producers must give such notice within 30 days of loss to prepare to apply for FSA Livestock Indemnity Program payments at 75 percent of market value. There is no cap on the amount of money a single producer can receive, Richter said.

The blizzard is a qualifying event and the Yakima County FSA Committee is documenting it, she said.

Five inches of snow were forecast, but the storm dumped 18 to 24 inches and brought daylong winds of 30 to 50 mph with gusts up to 80 mph. The dairies, most of which were on a ridge north of town, tried to protect cows by stacking hay bales and moving cows into milking parlors.

Cows became too cold and huddled in corners of pens. Most died from injuries and some from cold exposure, said Gerald Baron, executive director of Save Family Farming.

, a farm advocacy group.

Cows could not be milked and at least one dairy dumped milk because roads could not be kept open for milk trucks.

Most of the carcasses were composted at the dairies following protocols established by Washington State University that dairies regularly use for natural mortality, George said. Such composting with manure has to be used on the farm and has to be kept separate from compost leaving the farm, he said.

A rendering company took some of the cows and less than one-third of them were hauled over Presidents’ Day weekend to a landfill in Oregon, he said.

The cows average about 1,400 pounds each and their average time of milk production is about six years, he said.

The Humane Farming Association issued a statement about its campaign to require producers to show they are trying to prevent weather-related losses in order to qualify for LIP payments. Currently, producers get payments having paid no insurance premiums for the program and not having to show efforts to protect animals, HFA says.

Between 2013 and 2017, $199 million was issued to farmers and ranchers in LIP payments, primarily for weather losses, HFA said.

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