"Keep ‘em in your prayers," asked Darren Turley, executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen on Thursday. He was referring to the Southwest dairies suffering from Winter Storm Goliath.
Four days after what is possibly the worst storm on record for cattle in the area, operations are returning to normal. The storm rolled into the Clovis, N.M., and Lubbock, Texas, region Saturday evening and was gone by Monday morning.
But the 22" inches of snow paired with wind gusts, some reaching over 60 miles per hour, was too much for many cattle. It also proved impossible for some dairies to continue operating at the time. The uncharacteristic weather was to the extreme for the High Plains region.
Dairy Herd Management reached Turley by phone on Thursday in his Central Texas office. Their area also received snow, but nothing like West Texas, Turley explained. One Lubbock area farmer recalled that he was in his 34th year of dairying there and occasionally started milking late due to weather, but never missed one. Last weekend, that farmer told Turley he missed 1.5 days of milking. Turley said many farms missed one or more milkings on Sunday, with some also missing Saturday evening or Monday morning.
At some locations, the National Guard came in to shut down roads, ensuring no milk was moved from one area to another. Turley expects a small bump in price due to a lack of milk and cheese being delivered, but losses from storm deaths, lingering health issues, and future losses – potentially big as snow melts and makes for muddy conditions – will be far greater.
News was slow to come from the region Monday as producers got to work clearing snow – stuck mostly in feed lanes, head locks, and fences – and power outages rolled through the area.
"It's a dire situation," Turley said. "It's going to be a long time to recover, both emotionally and financially."
Turley told Dairy Herd Management that with most mature cow loss numbers in, and youngstock losses still being reported, he expects dairy cattle losses in the high 10,000s or even above 20,000 in Texas alone, which would match the range reported on the New Mexico side of the border on Monday by AgWeb.com's Anna-Lisa Laca. (READ New Mexico dairy farmers survive blizzard, but 20,000 cows likely won't)
The Texas Association of Dairyman (TAD) is getting in touch with state and federal leaders for assistance. But in addition to the possible 40,000 dairy cattle lost in the region, beef cattle feedlot numbers will take quite a hit as well.
New Mexico State University reports 25 dairies and 63,000 milk cows in Curry County and 32 dairies and 60,000 milk cows in Roosevelt County, according to the Clovis News-Journal. In Texas, the region affected is home to about 142,800 cows or 36% of Texas" milk cow population, Turley estimated.
That huge loss will make any indemnity program trying to make a real impact to the afflicted farms hard to achieve, Turley said. He noted most of the dairy cattle losses in Texas will come from just three counties.
The Clovis News-Journal reported that while Southwest Cheese of Clovis operated at just 10% of normal delivery on Monday, 90% of deliveries arrived on Wednesday. (READ Snow story: Dairy losses could prove heavy)
Dairy Herd Management editorial board member Randy Tapia, manager of B&;C Dairy, Hale Center, Texas, considers himself lucky despite suffering losses on his farm. Of the 2,800 cows, Tapia reported losing all 22 newborns for three days, 12 heifers, and 30 mature cows. He is currently helping a neighbor who lost 350 or more, and estimates that 30 other dairies are in a similar situation.