Jared Blackwelder, a farmer from Springfield Missouri, was feeding his dairy cows on Saturday morning with his wife Misty. The happy couple had no idea this would be the last time they would see the herd alive.
Heavy spring rains had caused some flooding recently, but the worst seemed to have passed. Jared and Misty weren’t concerned when they heard some rumbling in the distance. They left the small herd alone to graze in the pasture until their evening milking. The Blackwelders were devastated when they returned just a few hours later.
After walking through the empty pasture, Blackwelder found all 32 dairy cows dead just inside the tree line. The entire herd had been struck by lightning.
The Wright County Missouri Farm Bureau posted images of the dairy cows to their Facebook page asking viewers to pray for the Blackwelders. MFB President Stan Cody told CBS News “it’s a common occurrence. It does happen. The thing that made this the worst was just the sheer number of cows that were affected.” Cody, who raises beef cows, has also lost a cow to lightning. “You’re at the mercy of mother nature,” he said.
After inspecting the cows, a local veterinarian confirmed that lightning was the cause of death. Until now the veterinarian had never seen a lightning strike kill more than 6 cows. He believes the herd was huddled together under the trees seeking shelter from the storm.
Jared was absolutely heartbroken. “It’s not like they are pets. But the ones I’m milking, I’ve raised every one of them,” he said in an interview with the Springfield News-Leader. “Dairy cattle are a little different because you mess with them twice a day. It knocks you hard.”
Each dairy cow was worth somewhere between $2,000 and $2,500. The Blackwelders have estimated the total loss at more than $60,000. They have insurance, but the farmers do not believe it will be enough to cover such an incredible loss.
Cody confirmed that the meat from the cows was unsalvageable. “Those animals are damaged and of course they had been there for a few hours when he found them,” he said. “In processing an animal, there’s a process that needs to be gone through. They wouldn’t have been fit for human consumption.”
Representatives from the local Farm Service Agency have reached out to the MFB. The loss of a herd can break a dairy farm, but the FSA has a Livestock Indemnity Program to help farmers get back on their feet after suffering a natural disaster such as flooding, lightning, or blizzards.
Critics outside of the farming community blamed the Blackwelder for not providing adequate shelter. Cody quickly came to their defense saying that most farmers in Missouri do not have a separate building for their dairy or beef cows. “This was nothing that he had any control over,” Cody said.