Spring derecho causes unexpected damage

Dairies grapple with aftermath of May storm

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    BRUCE, S.D. – The weather has been anything but normal for much of the Upper Midwest, and a dangerous springtime storm only added to the chaos.
    On the early evening of May 12, a severe derecho pummeled eastern South Dakota and west central Minnesota with wind gusts of more than 100 mph and sheets of rain blanketing the landscape, according to the National Weather Service.

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    “A couple of years ago, we had a part of a building roof go down in a heavy snow load,” said Wim Hammink. “We thought that was a big deal. That was peanuts compared to this.”
    Hammink and his family milk 4,000 cows at Hammink Dairy LLC in Brookings County near Bruce. Within the herd, 3,200 are milked in a 60-stall rotary parlor.
    
Roofs collapse, no injuries at Hammink Dairy
    At about 5:30 p.m. that Thursday, the storm tore through the farm with roofs and building support beams crumbling against the hurricane-like winds.
    “We knew it could be severe because there was a big wall of dust coming up from the south,” Hammink said. “We lost power before it was even by us. As soon as the storm came, calf hutches started flying by.”
    The most significant damage occurred at the family’s south farm site where the roofs of the rotary parlor and holding pen collapsed with cows beneath. Fortunately, the structure of the rotary and gates within the holding pen held the roof up, and after cutting out a partial side of the holding pen, cows could walk to their pens through the return lane unscathed.
    “For seven hours they were stuck there,” Hammink said. “They were bellowing, full of milk and scared.”
    Family, farm employees, community members and people from South Dakota State University worked to clean up the debris and move the cows to safety.
    “The community has been so great,” Hammink said. “Everyone has stepped up to help.”
    The Hamminks were in the midst of building a dry cow facility, so they used cranes from the construction company to lift the fallen rafters.  
    The daytime team for the dairy stayed until 3 a.m. when the cows were safely relocated, the parlor was cleaned and operational, and milking was beginning again.
    “When we did start milking again, the cows were really scared to go anywhere,” Hammink said. “We were going at half our speed, at best. Those first couple milkings, the milk was going down the drain. It wasn’t until almost a day later we were able to put milk in the tank.”    
    Power returned to the south farm site 12 hours after the storm; four days later for the north farm site.  
    In the days that followed, Hammink worked with the construction team building the dry cow barn to redirect efforts to the milking barn and parlor area. At the time of this writing, materials were ordered, steel and rafters were being delivered, and the reconstruction of the facilities were a work in progress.
    While damage was widespread and repairs will take time, Hammink is grateful for how his farm fared in the storm.
    “People were working in the parlor when the storm came through, and yet no one or no cows were injured or hurt,” Hammink said. “We can deal with the material damage. It’s a lot of clean up, but nothing compared to having people or animals killed in this storm.”

Global Dairy relocates part of milking herd
    A short distance north, Global Dairy was also put in a dire situation at the farm in Hamlin County near Estelline. The east milking facility largely withstood the storm; however, the main barn and milking parlor was left without power and water.
    Kevin Souza, a partner at Victory Farms near Revillo, about an hour north of Estelline, contacted Global Dairy’s General Manager Shannon DeWitt by text immediately following the storm.
    “She responded that they needed a place to milk 1,700 cows,” Souza said.
    He worked with DeWitt and one of Global Dairy’s owners, Arjan Blok, in coordinating the relocation of most of the farm’s milking herd following the severe storm.
    DeWitt said when the storm arrived, those working at Global Dairy quickly sought shelter, but after the storm passed, they saw the destruction it caused.
    “The parlor building was destroyed, and everything was housed in that barn except our hospital pen and dry cows,” DeWitt said. “We don’t have a way to milk in that facility. We had to reach out to people who would understand what had happened.”
     One of Souza’s farm sites was housing heifers since a new building was completed about six years ago to accommodate the milking herd. Souza called the local dairy equipment dealer to see about the possibility of getting the parlor up and running again.
    “They figured within six to eight hours they could get it running,” Souza said. “Once we knew that, we started moving.”
    He and his team then made arrangements to move the heifers out of the freestall barn and into outdoor corrals.
    People came from near and far to load and truck cattle, both heifers off of Victory Farms and cows from Global Dairy. The last load of milking cows arrived at 4:30 a.m. May 13 in Revillo and milking began about an hour later.
    DeWitt said they are so appreciative of the help they received.
    “Kevin’s family, our employees, truck drivers, electricians, everyone,” she said. “They have to know how much we appreciate them.”
    Souza agreed.
    “There’s no question that when somebody needs help, as farmers, dairymen, that’s what we do, we get it done,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome to have an industry like this that will come together when somebody really needs it.”
    In the days following the storm, Global Dairy relocated about half of it employees to Souza’s farm site to manage and care for the herd. Feed is being delivered, and everyone is adjusting to the different setup.
    “We’re getting into the flow of things,” DeWitt said. “It’s a bigger parlor than what we’re used to and different equipment. We have a crew up there that is making it work.”
    Within two days of the move, the parlor was operating with the cooling and wash systems functioning so milk could be shipped again.
    “Just three weeks ago, a guy offered to buy the milk tanks from this parlor,” Souza said. “My partners and I decided it wasn’t the right time and not the right move. That would’ve made this situation 10 times harder to pull off; somebody was looking out.”
    The team at Global Dairy is making plans for rebuilding but with the assistance from Victory Farms, there is time.

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