Dangerous Weather Considerations for Dairy Producers

— Written By

As Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of the Carolinas, it is important to start making preparations for you, your family, and your farm. Below are a few things to consider moving into the weekend. If you have any questions, concerns, or need assistance contact your local agent, county office or emergency management contact.

Before the Storm

Adjust chore times. Weather patterns are hard to predict, but if you live in an area likely to be affected by a serious storm, timing of normal farm chores may need to be adjusted to ensure safety of you, your labor, and your animals. If you need to adjust milking times to avoid the most serious conditions:

  • Start the transition early. Cows are creatures of habit and prefer a routine. Small changes are best to preserve their well being and reduce the chance for milk loss.
  • Move milking times by 1 to 1.5 hours per day until you reach a desired time. Your desired time may change as weather forecasts become more reliable so do the best you can. The most important factors are to not milk cows less than 8 hours or more than 14 hours apart.
  • Adjust feeding times to match milking times.

Gather supplies. Below is a short list of most important supplies that could be needed in case of power loss, flooding, or other catastrophic events. Keep in mind that your normal service people may not be able to access your farm for a few days after the storm, so make sure to contact them for any other suggestions.

  • Water. On average, you should have access to 1 gallon per person for 3 days for consumption purposes. Be sure that you have generators available to pump water to cows as needed.
  • Generator(s). Access to adequate generators (and fuel) is necessary to keep equipment running and support milking, feeding, and other chores. CHECK YOUR GENERATORS ASAP to be sure they function.
  • Fuel. Diesel, gasoline, and any other fuel types you will need to keep equipment running.
  • Temporary fencing and supplies to repair fencing.
  • Charge your phones and other communication devices. It is wise to invest in a battery powered weather radio as well. Communication during severe weather events is critical.
  • Gather all your important documents into one safe, dry place. This would include personal and farm information. In particular, insurance policies, identification information, and other pertinent records should be protected.

Check your waste storage. Florence is expected to make landfall late Thursday/early Friday (9/14 or 9/15). Contact your local extension office or Department of Water Resources agent to determine what best management practices need to be followed. Below are a few reminders:

  • Keep in mind that General Permit requires farmers to STOP ALL LAND APPLICATION OF WASTE within 4 hours of the FIRST issuance of a Hurricane Warning, Tropical Warning, or a Flood Watch (including Flash Flood Watches) for the county in which the permittee farm is located.

Find safe locations for all your people and animals. Make a list of all animals in a location or number of animals in a pasture. Stage vehicles, feed, and other supplies at a high spot on the farm. Make sure you have access to these in case of flooding. Florence is projected to make landfall and could stay in place for up to 48 hours, resulting in a serious storm surge and severe flooding. It is important that you have an exit plan for your employees and your family. Your safety is the most important thing to consider.

Animal health considerations. Given the amount of rainfall expected, the ground and bedding is likely to be saturated. This, combined with changes to normal milking routines, can lead to increased mastitis. Be sure to have plenty of fluids as well as anti-inflammatory and / or antibiotic treatments on hand. Remember that commercial shipping and local vet clinics may not be able to access your farm for days afterwards.

Cows can stress easily so be prepared for close up cows to calve early. Aftercare for these cows and their calves is more critical during these weather events. In particular watch for mastitis in fresh cows and increased diarrhea in baby calves. Dipping the navel and access to good quality colostrum is an absolute necessity in these conditions.

  • Supplies to have on hand: Banamine, sedation (for emergency situations…with cows), antibiotics (for mild injuries).

After the Storm

  • Check all cows and other animals for signs of injury or distress. Work with your veterinarian to address any issues that have developed.
  • Be aware that animal rights groups often target dairy farms during and immediately after severe weather events. For this and other reasons of public safety, stay vigilant regarding strangers on the farm.
  • Take inventory and pictures.
  • Be aware of unstable structures, trees, power lines, or other dangerous debris.
  • Have any feed that was exposed to rainfall or flood water tested for nutrients as well as toxins. Work with your nutritionist or extension personnel to determine if feed is safe for livestock to consume.

If you need any assistance or further information, please contact us or your local extension office. You can find more information on the NCDA&CS Disaster site as well as the NC State Extension site. Keep checking back here for more information as Florence moves closer. Stay safe!