SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — As he does every morning, Texas County dairy farmer Jared Blackwelder started milking his cows around 4 a.m. Saturday. He finished up just before daylight and headed back to the barn. He was about to lock the gate when lightning struck hard and close.
"It was so bright I couldn't hardly see," he said. "It just brought fire down the fences."
Later in the day, when it was time to milk again, Blackwelder returned to the field and found 32 of his certified organic cows dead.
A veterinarian confirmed the cows had been struck by lightning. Blackwelder suspects it was that same lightning strike that sent fire along his fences.
"I went down over the hill and seen them laying there," an emotional Blackwelder said. "They were just piled on top of each other. They were huddled up, trying to get out of rain.
"It's not like they are pets. But the ones I'm milking, I've raised every one of them," he said. "Dairy cattle are a little different because you mess with them twice a day. It knocks you hard."
Wright County Missouri Farm Bureau shared photos of the dead cows on Facebook Saturday evening. As of Monday, that post has been shared more than 14,000 times, with more than 1,000 comments from strangers.
"Sending prayers from over the pond in Scotland," one wrote. "Regardless of what the cattle were used for, they are not only someone's livelihood, they were living beings. I truly hope you recover from this."
"So many people don't understand a farmer's life," wrote another. "Most rise before the sun rises and go to bed late in the night. I was raised on a farm and loved it. Everyday was a different challenge it seemed. Farming has to be in you're DNA, it's a good life. And I have always said farming is a real gamble, you never know what hand you will be dealt. My heart goes out to this family. Stay strong and God bless."
Blackwelder said he has insurance, but he's not sure if it will cover his total loss. His cows are certified organic and about twice the price of conventional cattle, he said. He estimated each cow was worth $2,000-$2,500 for a total loss of more than $60,000.
He does not plan to move the carcasses until an insurance agent arrives. Then, he figures he'll have to get an excavator and bury them.
"When they get hit by lightning, you can't use them," he said. "It blows them up from the inside."
Blackwelder's father is a beef cattle farmer so he's been in the business for many years. Blackwelder decided to get into organic dairy cows back in 2007. Over the years, he's lost three cows to lightning.
He said the veterinarian who examined the cows has been in the business for many decades. That vet told Blackwelder the most he'd ever seen killed by a single lightning strike was six.
Blackwelder still has about 120 cows remaining on his farm just outside of Cabool, Missouri and said he is grateful more weren't killed. He said he hopes to be able to replace the cows that were killed.
The organic milk from Blackwelder's farm is sold through the Organic Valley Coop and can be purchased at stores like Mama Jean's and Ruby's Market in Springfield.