Winter storms blamed for 1,700 cow deaths in Yakima Valley

Associated Press
The Yakima Valley Dairy Farmers Association blames cold temperatures and winds gusting to 80 mph for the loss of cattle in Idaho and Washington state over the weekend.

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — A series of winter storms that have pounded the state of Washington this week are blamed for killing about 1,700 dairy cows in the Yakima Valley.

The Yakima Valley Dairy Farmers Association blames cold temperatures and winds gusting to 80 miles per hour for the cow deaths.

KIMA-TV says dairy farmers are preparing for more winter storms by adding extra bedding to insulate areas for cows to lie down, adding extra feed, and thawing water troughs with hot water.

Dairy farmer Alyssa Haak of Prosser, Washington, says they are stacking straw bales to create windbreaks for cows.

“Without our employees, there’s no way we, or our cows could survive this storm,” Alyssa Haak , a dairy farmer in Prosser said. “To shield our cows from the wind we stacked straw bales to create a windbreak for our cows. I give a lot of credit to our milk truck drivers, too. Without their bravery, we wouldn’t be able to get our milk off the farm.”

Another farmer in Grandview says he’s been working around the clock to make sure his cows are being protected from the elements.

“These have been the worst few days of my life,” he said. “We’re just devastated. I don’t think we’ve ever been hit with weather like this.”

“It was pure hell. We've never seen anything like it,” J & K Dairy Owner Jason Sheehan said.

He and his workers did all they could to protect their cows from the blizzard like conditions.

But even that was not enough.

“This is the first time in all my years milking cows that we've had to stop milking because we simply couldn't get the job done. We couldn't get the cows to go in or out of the barn,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said the cows went into their primal instincts and huddled together to brace against the freezing temps. Not budging from where they stood. Causing them to freeze in bunches.

But since this the first-time dairy farmers dealt with snow and wind chill at that level, in an area that is warm most of the year, there wasn't much that could be done.

“This is a desert. We are in a desert. We house our animals accordingly to the weather that we have,” herd manager Kyle Van Dyk said.

Dairying regions in Idaho also reported the loss of hundreds of dairy cows.

With severe winter weather continuing to occur in in eastern Washington throughout the next week, dairy farmers are assessing their current losses and preparing for the next round of snow and wind.

Farmers say that they are working together to help each other through these tough times.

Markus Rollinger, a Sunnyside dairy farmer stated, "Saturday was brutal. We put in a 36-hour day, but we’ve been fortunate. I’ve spent a lot of time helping my fellow dairy farmers and supporting what they’re going through,” Markus says. “My brother and I are trying to keep roads plowed for our employees and the milk trucks.”

Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency because of the storms, which farmers are hoping will lead to further assistance.