Dairy, Beef Cattle Losses In Thousands In Blizzard


Dairy farmers have had to dig out milking parlors so surviving cows can be milked.  (Photo: Agweb.com)

While human life was spared in a blizzard that hit New Mexico and Texas in late December, bovines took a hard hit: Dairy Herd Management (via agweb.com) said as many as 40,000 dairy cattle were lost in Texas and Dairyherd.com said in the neighborhood of 30,000 more were lost in New Mexico. In both states, the cows they were trapped in excessively-deep snow drifts – some as high as 14 feet.

What’s been called “possibly the worst storm on record for cattle in the area” rolled into the Clovis NM and Lubbock TX areas on December 26 cleared out on Monday – leaving 22” of snow in its wake.

[I’ve been out in such storms, in Central New York, and one time tried to struggle through a good two feet of snow to get to a cow barn in hopes I’d find someone milking. A garbage truck had caught the wing of its plow on something – garbage trucks are ordinarily called into double duty and equipped with plows on ‘snow days’ – and the truck overturned into a ditch. The driver had escaped unharmed, I learned soon thereafter from the wife in the nearby farm house.

[We experienced a number of true blizzards (see definition here) every winter in that area, which is just downwind from Lake Ontario  and Lake Erie, both of which regularly produce what’s known as ‘lake effect’ snow. That’s an interesting weather phenomenon where a storm sucks up water from a large body of water such as those lakes then drops it, in the form of snow, somewhere to the south or east. There was a case a few years ago where a storm stalled over Lake Ontario, adjacent to Oswego County NY, and even before it was all over, the New York Times reported cited a National Weather Service as noting that, “One town, Redfield, reported an unofficial total of 11 feet 8 inches, which would be a state record for snowfall from a single storm event. And the Weather Service said more snow was on the way.”

The late December blizzard called Winter Storm Goliath in Texas and New Mexico wiped out one-eighth of Texas’s 325,000 head of milkers. Herd losses were compounded, in both states, by the loss if milk that couldn’t be delivered to processing facilities because of blocked roads.

The Clovis News-Journal reported that the Southwest Cheese processing plant in Clovis operated at just 10% the day after the storm passed through, but it had been able to boost production to 30% of normal two days later.

The paper also noted that the Texas Association of Dairymen was seeking help from state and federal leaders. It noted, as well, that beef cattle feedlots were affected by the storm. Some 12,000 beefers were lost and 40,000 were missing a few days after the storm, AgWeb.com reported.

The losses of both livestock and product in those two states is a particularly tough hit for an industry that has been struggling with low prices because of a supply glut – not just in the U.S. In China, for example, farmers have been dumping milk and culling cows as prices for dairy products have dropped over the past three years. The Wall Street Journal cited one farmer who’d slaughtered 180 cows, roughly 20% of his herd, in recent months and he continued to lose (when the article was printed last March) some $16,000 a month.

“I don’t think I could bear it if I had to kill any more of the cows,” he told the paper. He added, though, “If prices fall I will have to kill some more. I just need to survive. What choice do I have?”

A few months earlier, The Journal reported that New Zealand, the world’s largest dairy exporter, also was struggling with dropping prices.

All these reports point to the fact that, eventually, these days, there’s no such thing anymore as a ‘local market’: With commodities being shipped here, there and everywhere, the world is one giant interrelated market for producers of dairy and other farm products.