By Bill Hudson

RICE, Minn. (WCCO) — On his Benton County dairy farm, Rob Beauchamp now grows only crops, not cows. He was forced to sell off his 92-head of Holsteins when their milk output dropped significantly.

“We were at 70 pounds of milk, and that dropped to between 25 and 30 pounds of milk,” he said.

That’s pounds of milk per cow, per day. At that rate, Beauchamp was losing over half of his dairy income. To make matters worse, some of the cows even got extremely sick and later died.

“It was painful, because…their immune system would shut down,” Beauchamp said.

The culprit, according to Beauchamp, is something known as stray voltage. That’s the term given to an electrical anomaly when minute levels of electrical current carried in a power line’s neutral wire leaks down into the ground.

Measured in milliamps (1/1000th of an amp), stray voltage can cause physiological problems with livestock at extremely low levels.

Dave Stetzer, a Wisconsin electrical consultant, has studied the stray voltage problem with 30,000 cows on hundreds of dairy farms across the Midwest.

He’s also authored several peer-reviewed studies and maintains the problem is easily remedied.

“So rather than putting up a bigger neutral wire or another wire, or something to handle it, in 1992 the Public Service Commission, for most states, allowed the [power utilities] to put the current in the ground,” Stetzer said.

He was guest speaker at the Beauchamp farm on Tuesday where a gathering of area farmers heard detailed information about the issue.

With the floor of his barn wired to a trailer containing several sensitive monitors and computers, farmers could see how cows reacted to the tiny voltage spikes. A television camera captured dairy cows standing in their stalls. On the other side of the split-screen monitor, an electrical wave form displayed the spikes in the ground current.

“We can see both the electrical activity and the movement of the cows at the same time,” said Adam Leavitt, a computer technician.

Until a solution is found, Beauchamp’s diary farm will remain silent.

Farmers who are concerned about possible stray voltage problems are urged to contact their utility provider and ask for an on-site inspection and electrical evaluation.

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