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Goliath delivers one, two punch

Winter Storm Goliath came roaring into the Texas Panhandle on Saturday, December 26, 2015 and set its sights on the Friona area. With high winds and blowing snow, the area received approximately 20 inches of snow with drifts as high a the tops of houses. Area dairymen did their best to prepare their livestock and property for the onslaught but were still slammed hard by the 60-70 mile per hour winds that made the preparations seem miniscule.

According to Darren Turley, executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen, it wasn’t until Tuesday, December 29 that many dairy producers in the primary impact area (from Lubbock west to Muleshoe and north to Friona) were able to safely walk among their cows and survey the situation. Significant losses of livestock were being reported.

The region is home to approximately 36 percent of the state’s dairy estimated 142,800 cows.

Most of the dairies owners in the area had made plans ahead of time for their employees to have a place to stay during the storm. A few of the employees attempted to go home during the blizzard and had to turn back. The owners supplied a dry, warm place for the employees and families to stay when they were not out shoveling snow and doing their regular chores of milking and feeding the cows.

A-Tex Dairy owner Tom Alger reported that they adjusted the feed rations as early as two weeks in advance of the storm by consulting with veterinarians and nutritionists. This was to insure more energy for the cows.

Additional loaders were pressed into service in anticipation of the storm. In one case, a quick thinking truck driver brought in four tanker trucks ahead of the storm to transport the milk.

The owners of Optima Dairy, Koen and Els Ally, reported that it was rough as they brought in their cows for milking during blizzard on Sunday. They had to look for the light of the barns and herd the cattle blindly in the snowstorm. Milking that normally takes 9 hours for one shift took at a minimum of 12 hours during and after the blizzard, reported Els. She stated that she saw the cows walking from one pen to the next on the snow drifts.

Blue Sky Dairy owner Harry DeWit and Optima Dairy owner Koen Ally spent the hours during and after the blizzard picking up employees by using tractors and other equipment. DeWit and his sons, Jake and Ryan, traveled the road between Hub and Dimmitt digging out his employees and other dairies employees that had attempted to make it home before the storm.

“The dairies worked together,” reported Els.

Many good Samaritans around the area pitched in to help by bringing out tractors and helping dig out equipment that had become stuck in the snow. The neighbors also came out with food and helped cook meals for the employees.

“Goliath was bigger than we thought,” stated Alger.

“We prepared as best as we could,” stated Margret DeWit of Blue Sky Dairy, “The wind was so terrible.”

According to Turley, the storm will have a lingering affects on the state’s milk supply. Due to the weather conditions and road closures, some dairies were forced to waste a number of loads of milk and some cows were unable to be milked in a timely manner.

“When a dairy cow goes that long without being milked, her milk supply starts to dry up,” Turley said. “That means the dairy cows in this region will give less milk for months to come.”

“Trying to get back on track has been very hard for us and numerous farms we know personally in the area,” said Nathan Moroney, manager of Del Rio Dairy.

The affects of Goliath on the cows will be a long-term problem due to replacing the cows that died or contracted pneumonia and/or frostbite. Additionally, the dairies that lost calves in their heifer yards will be replacing those animals as well.

Most of the Parmer County dairies are back to a normal milking and feeding schedule but are still digging out from under the massive amount of snow.

Tom Alger added, “I am a strong believer in God. I don’t know the reason for this storm. But thankfully there were no human losses.”

“We have dug out and we will move on!” stated Harry DeWit.