Dairymen struggle to keep cows dry, comfortable
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
After a wet winter and spring and with little straw left to keep cows dry and healthy, Idaho dairymen are looking for an end to the soggy situation.
With 7,000 cows, Legacy Dairy in Jerome has gone through its typical straw needs -- 15,000 bales -- and has had to purchase 2,500 bales more, said Mark DeKruyf, one of the dairy's owners.
An average bale weighs about 1,100 pounds, and straw sold for $50 a ton in the fall. That jumped to $75 when DeKruyf went looking for more this winter.
He said he hopes he'll have enough straw to get through the end of the wet season, but he only has about 600 bales left.
"What really burns through the straw is you straw everybody down and get another 6 inches of wet. You have to push out the beds and do it all again," he said.
Keeping the cows dry is critical, he said. Stressed cows don't milk as well. Wet, cold cows are prone to illness.
In a typical winter, he might have 60 cows in the hospital pen at any given time. This year, that spiked to 120, the majority suffering from mastitis.
December brought the worst of the weather, said George Skari, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boise. Boise Airport recorded 3.18 inches of precipitation in December, 130 percent more than the average of 1.38 inches. October was also wet with 1.18 inches, well over the average 0.76 inches.
March has been wet, accumulating 2.18 inches of precipitation by March 28, nearly double the average of 1.14 inches.
"It's been hard on cows," said Arie Roeloffs, part owner of Southfield Dairy, of Wendell. "We've had a heck of a time keeping corrals dry and clean and cows healthy."
His hospital pen spiked to 100 cows out of his 4,900-head herd, but he's used about 30 percent more straw than normal to keep cows comfortable. The dairy has been out of straw for at least two weeks, and there's no more to be found, he said.
"With all the wet and mud, you have an increase in mastitis," said Tony Vanderhulst, a Wendell dairyman.
At any given time, cows in the hospital number about 1.5 percent of the herd. With the weather Idaho dairymen have seen this season, it can easily double, even triple, he said.
In addition to extra straw purchases, dairymen have incurred milk losses, antibiotic costs and the cost to move the wet straw.
"It is hard to put a number on less milk or more cows in the hospital, but there is no doubt there has been a toll on both," said Mike Roth, president of Idaho Dairymen's Association and part owner of Si-Ellen Dairy, Jerome.
His dairy has had its share of cows in the hospital pen, and the wet weather could delay the spring flush usually seen about this time of year, he said.
"If we get some warm weather soon, we will be OK. If this pattern continues much longer, it won't be good," he said.