As a dairy owner that endured three of the four hurricanes that affected the Southeast this year, it became apparent that as a society we take for granted many aspects of daily life. Water, electricity, fuel, and even pickups and deliveries can all be affected by natural disasters. And if caught unprepared — without the ability to feed or milk cows, or to have the milk picked up — it will affect your economic bottom-line.

Hurricanes are not alone in their ability to inflict widespread damage. Tornadoes, floods, fires, winter storms, and even terrorist events can happen anywhere. Advance preparation is a must. Here is what I recommend:

  • Electricity. Assess your generator needs. Many dairies were dismayed to discover that recent additions to the farm had increased their electrical needs beyond the capacity of their generators. Have your generators inspected and calibrated by a qualified electrician annually, and use them at least once a month. 
  • Water. Evaluate water needs for the entire dairy. That must include the cows, heifers, milking center and even water needs for employee housing. And make sure that your generator can supply enough electricity to run all of the wells that are needed for your operation.
  • Fuel. Maintain a manual or DC pumping system to transfer fuel to equipment, vehicles, and even generators. Too often, fuel trucks cannot meet the immediate needs of the community in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Keep sufficient cash on hand to purchase fuel and supplies, since many credit card terminals may be inoperable after a large storm.
  • Transportation. Find out if your milk handler will compensate you for milk that is produced but unable to move off the farm. In the recent hurricanes, it became evident that milk pickups would be hindered due to safety issues concerning trucks on the roads. Another question is whether FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) can compensate farmers for milk that cannot be transported to milk plants.
  • Feeding. Plan alternative feeding strategies prior to storm events to minimize milk production losses. Facilities and equipment for feeding may be at risk in a severe storm. Older buildings may be susceptible to storm damage; therefore, parking feeding equipment outside may be better than keeping it indoors. In addition, evaluate cattle housing for potential roof collapse.
  • Nutrient Management. Make sure that your nutrient-management system — including pumping systems, handling equipment, and lagoons — will work as needed to prevent an illegal discharge.
  • Safety. Plan for employee safety. Prior to a storm, find out where the emergency shelters in your community are located, along with the protocols and services provided. If you have employee housing, you must take responsibility for the employee’s and his family’s safety. Make sure that they have sufficient food and water and other emergency supplies.
  • Insurance. Review your insurance coverage and policy statements periodically. Recent storm damage has taxed insurance companies, and policy revisions have been made. Know what will be covered and to what extent.

  Paul Johnson is a veterinarian and dairy producer in Climax, Ga.