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Published April 22, 2013, 02:01 PM

Recovering from lost power

Minnesota farmers focus on restoring order to their farms following a week-long power outage.

By: Julie Buntjer, Forum News Service

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Rural Ellsworth, Minn., cattle producer and veterinarian Erin deKoning was pretty happy to get home from work April 15 to see power was finally restored to her family’s farm. After the ice storm almost a week before, it didn’t take long for the family’s beef cows to realize the hotwire fence used to keep them in their yard was no longer working.

“We had cattle all over the yard,” deKoning says. They didn’t venture too far, though. “Luckily, they stayed pretty close to the silage pile on the yard — they’re no fools.”

The family typically has 210 to 220 cows, and with calving now complete on the farm, their herd is now at more than 400 animals. Keeping them comfortable for more than five days without electricity, though, has been a challenge.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate. We are on rural water, so we didn’t have to haul water, but we had a lot of clients and friends who had to haul water,” she says. The family also had generators, which were used to keep the animals warm and fed instead of using some of that power to warm up the house.

The ice storm and the subsequent snowstorm has created quite a bit of stress to animals, and deKoning, who works for the veterinary clinic in Luverne, Minn., says she’s seeing sick calves everywhere — suffering from scours or pneumonia.

“That was my whole morning,” she says. “Anything that makes stress for them decreases their immune system and makes it harder for them to fight.”

For Keith Sieve, a hog producer from rural Wilmont, Minn., an investment he made into an automatic power source a couple of years ago was “money well spent.”

As he still waited for power to be restored to his family’s farm April 15, Sieve says he’s “got to have juice all the time” with his farrow-to-finish hog operation.

The 75-kilowatt automatic generator system kicked in after a mere 2-second delay after the power went out, and Sieve just watches it now to make sure the propane supply doesn’t run out.

“It’s running the water pump in the well, all the ventilation fans, the heaters in the rooms, augers, feed systems, plus it keeps the house warm — the lights and everything else, too,” Sieve says. “A guy sure appreciates having the regular electricity going after you’re not on it for close to a week now.”

At the Jim Joens farm, also near Wilmont, two 15-kilowatt generators are keeping things powered for a calf-feeding operation.

While he has the hay and grain to feed the calves, and rural water hasn’t caused any problems, Joens says the hardest part about not having electricity is getting everything done. He can’t load and haul grain because there’s just “too much to run.”

More frustrating, however, is that Joens has neighbors all around him with power restored, and he’s in a pocket that hasn’t been fixed yet. There’s still a downed power line not far from his property.

“They could put 14 farms online if they just put one pole up,” Joens says. “It’s six days and I haven’t seen an [Rural Electric Administration] truck out here yet. It’s frustrating. If you see a truck once in a while, you think they’re at least working on it.”