Fallen lines spark cattle combustion

BY GEMMA REDDELL
Last updated 10:03 28/05/2009

NO BULL: Dave Taylor, left, and Glen Johnson, discuss how to remove the dead beasts from the Dairy Flat farm they lease.

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Seven bulls ‘exploded’ and caught fire after powerlines fell on a Dairy Flat farm, north of Auckland, on Tuesday.

Dave Taylor, who leases the 60.7 hectare Wilks Rd farm, says he lost a $2000 friesian breeding bull and six other meat bulls of the same breed worth about $500 each.

"I got a call from my dad, who was driving along the motorway, to say cows were exploding. I found seven dead and on fire in the paddock," he says.

Mr Taylor says he jumped the fence to see what was wrong because he didn’t know what had happened.

But then he realised he was trapped in the paddock as the fences and gates were "fizzing and hissing" because the fallen lines were still live.

Mr Taylor says he was lucky because he and workmate Glen Johnson may have jumped the fence without touching the wire. Both were wearing rubber gumboots that would have provided some insulation from electric shock.

"Glen and I came down to the farm and jumped into the paddock when we saw other cattle coming towards the line and tried to scare them away," says Mr Taylor.

Three bulls were electrocuted when the lines fell, and another four were killed when they walked into the live area.

A hedgehog was also killed.

"The wires came down and the animals got fried. I could feel the power ticking on the ground," says Mr Johnson.

"Another bull was shocked but was still alive when we got there. It was stumbling around and couldn’t get up, so we propped him up and this morning he’s walking around."

He got his power company to turn off the power, but says they won’t fix the problem.

"The power company doesn’t want to know. They say the farmowner is liable for the lines across the farm."

The fallen private lines come from Bayes Coachlines and cross the paddocks to a cowshed.

A wooden bracket holding up the lines near the cowshed appears to have rotted and snapped, he says.

"The lineman said it’s up to the owners to maintain the lines. The meter reader comes fairly often and didn’t say anything about the state of it," says Mr Taylor.

The dead friesians were worth about $5500, plus there’s the cost of removal and burial by digger, replacing the lines and buying new stock.

Mr Taylor says he probably will have to call in an independent contactor to do the job at his own expense.

"And a few days earlier I was told my power rates were going up as well."

They are investigating the situation with their power and insurance companies.

A similar incident happened to Kumeu’s John Bridgford about five years ago. Two horses worth about $15,000 were electrocuted when lines fell on his farm as a result of corrosion to a crossbar bolt. Realising fences were electrified, he called police to help stop people risking their lives by going to investigate, and got the power turned off.

Mr Bridgford says he had a "big fight" with his power company about the incident before the firm reimbursed powerpole repairs and burial costs. The company wouldn’t pay for the horses.

After the incident, many neighbours had powercables checked, Mr Bridgford says. Some found faults and had them repaired by contractors, he says.

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