It is now estimated that more than 30,000 cows were lost in the storm, according to The Associated Press. Snow and wind drifts as high as 14 feet were reported throughout the region.
Beverly Idsinga, executive director of the Dairy Producers of New Mexico, told DairyReporter she could not estimate losses in her region, as dairies were still working to dig out and keep their living stock healthy.
“Things are definitely improving. It was slow going there last week for a couple of days, especially Christmas and the day after, only because road conditions were awful and we couldn’t get feed trucks or milk trucks in and out,” she said. “Luckily, some of our producers were prepared for this and had feed on hand.”
“It was amazing how the communities rallied around each other. Some were stuck on these dairies for 36 hours … Cow comfort was the No. 1 responsibility they had, making sure they were well taken care of.”
Huge effect in area; impact on national industry likely minimal
New Mexico, especially the east side of the state, takes great pride in its dairy production efficiency. Idsinga said the state has 145 dairies, about 75% of which are on the eastern side where the storm hit the hardest. New Mexico’s market is 4th in the US in cheese production and 9th in milk production.
“We’re not a huge percentage of the national economy, but in productivity we’re No. 1,” she said. “It’ll slow down for a bit.”
According to the New Mexico State University Dairy Extension Program, the state boasts 2,485 cows per dairy as of 2014, the highest rate in the country. The state’s arid climate allows for ease of dairy production. However, it left dairy producers and state officials alike with little warning or precedence for preparation.
“With the storm coming in there was just no way to prepare,” Idsinga said. “And with 80 MPH winds, there’s also going [to be] structural damage. Agriculture is a big part of the economy in New Mexico, especially the eastern side of the state, and dairy is No. 1. It’s going to hit us a little bit hard with the loss of production and animals, but I think we’ll bounce back before too long.”
Storm wreaks havoc in Texas
Darren Turley, executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD), said in a statement that this storm was a “particularly harsh and costly blow” to the area’s producers, both in the way of thousands of livestock and the loss of production now and into the future.
For dairy producers in the primary impact area, which TAD said was from Lubbock west to Muleshoe and north to Friona in Texas, it took days to get back to their herd. This area makes up approximately 36% of the state’s dairy cows.
“The immediate challenge is how to handle these sudden, massive losses of animals,” Turley said. “The ordinary methods for disposal cannot handle the volume of deaths we are seeing from this storm.”
In the long-run, Turley said this storm will likely affect the region and Texas’ milk supply, as employees who were usually able to milk cows twice a day were not able to do so for approximately two days.
“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. Less milk going to market will be felt by consumers, as well as by dairy farmers.”
National harm unknown as of yet
Donna Armstrong, spokesperson for the International Dairy Foods Association, an organization which represents dairy manufacturers, industries and suppliers, told DairyReporter it has not heard about any impact of the storm from its members thus far.
Chris Galen, senior vice president of communications with the National Milk Producers Federation (which helps develop and carry out policies to help improve the well-being of diary producers) said the impact of the storm will likely not be known until the USDA’s monthly report collecting losses of milk production and cows is released.