Year after Goliath: South Plains dairy industry ‘pretty solid’

MULESHOE — Humberto Contreras cringes in memory of Winter Storm Goliath.

“It was very ugly,” the Bailey County dairy worker said in Spanish. “It was very cold and there was lots of snow.”

Contreras works for Joe Osterkamp’s dairy west of Muleshoe. The storm killed some of his boss’s dairy cows and hindered the milk production in many others.

A year later, Contreras is pleased with the more mild winter.

“It’s different because this year it’s not snowing,” he said in Spanish. “It’s better for the cows, and better for us too.”

County-wide, Curtis Preston agreed. The agriculture and natural resources agent for the Bailey County branch of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service said the industry looks “good.”

“I think everybody’s completely recovered,” he said. “I think we should be in good shape.”

Goliath roared into Bailey County in late December 2015. The region north and west of Lubbock — think Muleshoe and Friona — is home to about 36 percent of Texas’ dairy cows, or about 142,800 cows. That means the storm brought a devastating hit to an entire industry.

Finding thousands of frozen bovine bodies was heartbreaking. The biggest loss, though, was in hindered milk production.

Milking cows have a use-it-or-lose-it ability. Because staff were unable to reach many of them for milking as the blizzard raged, their production suffered. Some produced less milk afterward; others none at all.

Nearly all have since recovered, including the ones that had to wait until their next gestation cycle.

“They’re good,” Osterkamp said of his cows. “They were off for a couple weeks, but they came back and their production slowly recovered.”

Contreras also remembers some cows being more difficult to work with, as if surviving the storm made them stubborn.

Those that never regained milk production were mostly older cows, Osterkamp recalls.

“It just took a lot out of them and they never recovered,” he said.

Some dairies suffered more losses than others; Osterkamp considers himself lucky by comparison. Management at Dutch Road Dairy, for instance, told A-J Media after the blizzard they lost about 300 cows.

Hindered milking was part of the aftermath.

Milk production in Bailey County dropped about 13.5 percent between December 2015 and January 2016 — or from 42.5 million pounds to 36.8 million pounds — according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That January production total was about 19.8 percent lower than the 45.9 million pounds from January 2015.

Plenty of factors go into milk production, but it’s still easy to notice a trend. In each of the first six months of 2016, Bailey County production was lower than in that month of 2015. Every month since July, production has been up.

The Texas Association of Dairymen’s executive director is optimistic.

“Region-wide, the dairy industry’s looking pretty good,” Darren Turley said. “Most of the dairies up there have been pretty solid and returned back to their original production levels. I think from all that we’re receiving from producers, all health issues have run their course. Everything’s kind of back to normal.”

 

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