Storms knock out power but cows need to be milked

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

WALDO, Wis. - A day after powerful storms ripped across Wisconsin on Aug. 28, Lyn-Vale Holsteins sat without electricity, powering up generators to milk cows — again. The night of the storms, power was knocked out in the area right at milking time.

Milking at Lyn-Vale Holsteins in Sheboygan County was lighted by skid steer lights and cell phone lights and done with portable milking units after storms moved through the area, knocking down power lines and trees on Aug. 28.

Katie Ulezelski, who works at Gellings Implement in Eden, picked up food and headed to the farm when she heard they were without power after reports of tornado touchdowns in the area.  

"I may not know how to drive equipment that well, or have any mechanical knowledge to fix anything, but I sure know how to deliver food and help out the best I can, so I decided to pick up supper on my way over to help at the farm. Once I arrived, there were many people there helping," Ulezelski told the Wisconsin State Farmer in an email. 

Milking gets done with generator power at Lyn-Vale Holsteins after storms knocked out power, took down trees and left a path of destruction on Aug. 28 in Sheboygan County.

Generator problems to provide power for milking units had slowed the progress of milking cows, limiting workers to using two portable milkers, Ulezelski said it "felt like we were living the 1940s life. Once two cows were milked, the two buckets were dumped into other buckets for people to carry back to the milk tank in the milk house at the other end of the barn."

After the generators were working, the crew could use all milk units and got about half the cows milked before everything shut down again.

With no electricity to power pumps, a water transfer tank is used to water heifers at two different locations at Lyn-Vale Holsteins in Sheboygan County after severe storms moved through on Aug. 28.

"It is now about 11 p.m. at this point, almost three to four hours past the normal time the cows are done being milked. They were antsy, irritable and rightfully uncomfortable," Ulezelski said. "Back we go to using two buckets at a time (still with about 30 cows left to milk) and we’re using cell phone lights and the skid loader to shine its lights into the barn to see what we're doing."  

It was past midnight by the time milking was completed that night — only several hours before morning milking needed to start. Yet, in those late, dark hours, farmers without power had to figure out how to keep the milk cooled so they didn't have to dump the tank "and lose what little money they get from the milk check these days," Ulezelski said.

Ulezelski described the effort as worrisome, trying to get cows milked in a timely manner for the comfort and health of the cows, frustrating, neverending, "like we were slightly defeated, but in the midst of all of that, a sense of calm." 

Uprooted trees line the front yard of a farm outside of village limites, Wednesday, August 29, 2018, in Cascade, Wis.

Nobody thought about themselves, the fact that their own houses were without power, or that they hadn't eaten — "all we cared about were those cows."

As of 8 p.m., Aug. 29, Lyn-Vale Holsteins still had no power. Owner William Schultz was told it could take up to three days to get power back. However, the generators were reportedly working well.

Related:Rain-soaked Wisconsin communities clean up following Tuesday's storms

Nearly 9,000 We Energies customers throughout Wisconsin were without power that afternoon. That number dropped from nearly 22,000 early the same morning.

As Ulezelski described the scene the night of the storm, a team of the Schultz family members, friends, a construction worker, an electrician, a truck driver, "a great team, all sharing the same passion for this ag world," came together "to help a farmer in need until whatever hour of the night help was needed."

"Some even slept in trucks at the farm last night because a cow was going to calve and they wanted to keep watch on the farm to make sure everything was alright," Ulezelski added. "If that doesn't show their dedication and commitment to these animals, their farming and way of life, I don't know what would."

Growing up surrounded by agriculture Ulezelski said that even though she can't drive equipment well or fix anything, she advocates for farmers, sharing real-life footage of what happens in their world, even when they are at the mercy of Mother Nature. 

"I cannot truly put into words the sense of pride I feel being able to be apart of this ag world," said Ulezelski. 

Trent Tetzlaff and Chris Mueller, Appleton Post-Crescent, contributed to this story.