How lightning affects dairy farms

Last week, 32 cows were killed by lightning in Missouri…which may make you wonder how lightning can take out that many cows at once.

Any person, object or animal can be directly struck by lightning, but another way farm animals are more commonly struck is through ground current. Once the lightning strikes an object like a tree or the ground directly, electric current travels in and along the ground (sometimes up to 100 feet) and can electrocute anything along its path.

If animals like cows are all huddled together – especially in mud or shallow water – they all are more likely to get struck because water is a good conductor of electricity.

Farm animals are also more likely to die from a lightning strike because they have larger body spans. The greater the distance between the entrance of the lightning (in this case – the hooves closest to the strike) to the exit (the hooves farthest from the strike) – the deadlier.

Austin Waldroup has worked on a dairy farm since he was 14-years-old. He’s currently the owner and dairy farmer at Waldroup Dairy Farm in LaGrange, Georgia.

None of his cows have ever been hit by lightning, but he says they are often are at risk of being struck because they hide under trees to get out of the wind and rain when storms move through.

“It’s more common than people think cause when it gets stormy, they all kind of huddle up together under the tree or any shelter they can,” says Waldroup.

He says insurance covers any cows struck and killed by lightning, but the cost of feed and the economic loss from the milk production would put him out of business if enough cows were hit. For him, that would be about 50 of the 100 of his best dairy cows.

“If my cows get struck by lightning…it depends on how many. 90% of the time it’s going to be 50 of your best cows struck by lightning when something happens to them. So 50 of my best cows get struck, I would probably have to get out of the dairy business cause I can’t make it the way milk prices are and feeding prices. I mean, I’m paying 300 dollars a tub on feed…I’m paying $5000 a week on feed. And feeding the cows doesn’t pay the bills,” he adds.

The best way to prevent cows from being struck by lightning is to move them into a safe shelter before a storm comes in. If this isn’t an option, it’s just a risk farmers have to take.

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