Milk dumped, cows spooked after quake

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 14:52 21/01/2014

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Dairy farmers were forced to dump thousands of dollars of milk after the 6.2-magnitude quake caused power cuts and near-stampedes of upset cows.

Fonterra also confirmed minor damage to its Pahiatua plant forced milk to be turned away.

Greg Gemmell said he had cows in his Bunnythorpe milking shed when the earthquake stuck.

The earthquake struck just before 4pm yesterday and was centred 15 kilometres east of Eketahuna at a depth of 33km.

Gemmell said it rumbled like a freight train or aircraft landing.

''I could see it coming along the pit. The cows freaked out and I thought there was going to be a stampede.''

Mr Gemmell said cows he was milking through his herringbone shed lost their footing and fell into each other when the earthquake ''rocked and rolled''.

He said there were still 100 cows waiting to be milked in the yard when the quake struck.

''And when it rocked, they ran towards the gate, then it rolled and they ran towards the shed.

He said the cows were so upset by the severity of the earthquake, he let them go to a nearby paddock.

''The power went out at any rate. Then it came back on about 6pm, and I milked the last hundred.''

He said the cows were still not normal the morning after.

''Those in the yard when the earthquake struck, were reluctant to come in. And they were off their milk.''

Bainesse farmer Robert Ervine said three phase power needed for his dairy shed was off for about 16 hours.

He said as a result, he had to dump about 3000 litres of milk from yesterday afternoon's milking as it could not be cooled.

''We were well through the milking when the power went out. There were about 60 to milk. Power didn't come on Monday night, so they had to put the milk in the effluent system.''

He said the cost of dumping one milking was about $2000.

Mr Ervine said power came back on at 7.30am today and they milked cows then.

''When the power came back on I was relieved. The biggest frustration was the lack of communication coming from the power lines company.  We ended up getting a private contractor.''

He said they had electricity at the house, but needed three phase for the heavy machinery in the cow shed.

''I have been milking for 23 years. We've been delayed before. But this is the first time I've lost milk.''

Mr Ervine said farmers are dependant on power for fencing, water and dairy sheds.

''It bring home the seriousness of the big one. We need to be able to cope for three days on our own.''

If a cow misses milking through power outages, it is uncomfortable for her, with swelling and stress.

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He said the cows could have higher somatic cell counts that effect milk quality and can result in a penalty. 

Federated Farmers Manawatu/Rangitikei president Andrew Hoggard said he heard the earthquake coming, but it did not affect his cows.

''We were further away than others, and we had a power flick, but the power didn't go off.''

He said the farm he has at Kiwitea has a generator to run the milking shed if there is a power outage, and it is good insurance.

''We had only had it two months, and [we've] done two milkings with it.''

Gemmell said he was thinking of buying a generator.

Meanwhile, Fonterra confirmed minor damage to its Pahiatua plant has forced milk to be turned away.

More than 1.4 million litres of milk had to be sent to Hawera for processing while the plant was assessed after Monday afternoon's earthquake.

Fonterra's New Zealand director of operations Robert Spurway said the plant was closed for business for a day and a half as engineers checked the whole structure.

 ''There was a little damage to a store building where there is robot packing and pelletiser, but with some minor work it will be in operation.''

He said the stainless steel structures and the plant were largely undamaged, and they processed some milk on Monday night to check everything was working.

Mr Spurway said all the processing equipment and buildings were undamaged.

He said tanker drivers were expected to pick up milk from farms and processing was starting Wednesday early morning at the site.

Mr Spurway said everyone who worked at the plant was contacted and accounted for with no injuries and only minor damage in their homes.

He said there were a few calls from farmers to the Fonterra call centre, mostly around power outages.

''There was damage to one milk vat, and that has already been fixed.''

- Manawatu Standard

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