The blizzard of 2015 did some major damage to dairy farms across the South Plains and the panhandlesome estimate that tens of thousands of cows were killed in the blizzard.
At the annual High Plains Dairy Conference which took place at the Overton Hotel in Lubbock from March 1-2 over 280 dairy producers attended to talk about the key issues in their industry. One of the main themes was reflecting on the blizzard ‘Goliath’ that came in December of 2015.
“Statewide production is still down a little bit and that’s because we had the counties all through [Lubbock] and Muleshoe and on up to Hereford, were hit very very hard,” explained Ellen Jordan, the statewide Dairy Specialist for Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. “We have 8 of our top 10 [dairy] counties here in the panhandle, so when milk production is down in this area it does mean that we have lower production statewide.”
Jordan said Goliath was possibly the most damaging weather event she’s seen in her 25 years of working with dairy farmers all around Texas. She believes it will take years for dairy farmers to overcomes the setbacks caused by the loss of cattle and milk production during the blizzard. Muleshoe dairy farm manager, Cody Kirby, agreed.
“Some cows have just dried off and quit milking after that storm and so financially it’s years to recoup from that storm, hopefully in milk yield maybe a year [to recover],” Kirby said.
Kirby explained that Goliath is an unusual event for High Plains dairy farmers, who usually enjoy ideal dairy farming conditions.
“We’ve been here a long time with our dairy and we’re here because typically we have really nice weather, we don’t have a lot of humidity here. So it’s good for cows, it’s good for us,” said dairy farmer Aldin Smith of Clovis, NM who also attended the High Plains Conference.
Smith lost some cows in the blizzard, he also said his farm’s milk production was impacted by the storm.
He started preparing for the storm a week in advance, but still found that his dairy milkers were unable to get to the farm to work because of the blizzard.
“Really our concern was to make sure our employees were safe and they didn’t get on the roads before they had to,” Smith explained. ” We did what we could to keep our cows as comfortable as we could, keep them fed and get back to normal operations as quickly as we could.”
Smith called the blizzard a learning experience, he said that he now recommends that dairy managers coordinate safety, food, and shelter for employees ahead of time before major weather events. But outside of employee preparations, he’s not sure how much more he could have done to prepare for such a massive weather event.
“I don’t think there was anything we could have planned on in that weather event,” said Kirby, echoing Smith’s comments. “We could have had cattle inside and still been affected by the storm. It’s a once-in-a-hundred-years storm, I want the people know that we worked hard, our employees worked hard. Yeah, we had some loss on our farms but we also saved a lot of cattle, and were able to keep milking a lot of cattle and kept them warm and put bedding out and fed them as soon as possible.”
Kirby, who oversees around nine-thousand cows, shared his experience from the blizzard with the other conference attendees in hopes of better preparing them for the next unexpected weather event on the High Plains.
“Preparedness is the biggest thing, when they start talking about the storm two weeks in advance and they name the storm, you need to start preparing with housing for workers, food and just having a plan in place to make sure you have enough help to get through the storm,” Kirby said.