Community comes to aid of dairy owners

Workers remove portions of the roof of the Grande Vida Dairy’s milk barn damaged in a tornado a week ago. Joel Ochoa, left, and Arturo Perez, right support a portion of the roof while Jesus Cardillo removes bolts. (Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry)

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

Twisted steel and scrap are jumbled everywhere you look on the Grande Vida Dairy east of Portales.

Pens that once held 2,500 head of Holstein dairy cows are empty except for the debris. The remains of the milking barn were being pulled down Saturday in the first step of rebuilding the tornado-ravaged business managed, in partnership with others, by Mike and Cindy Mitchell of Portales.

As many as 50 volunteers were at the dairy Saturday picking up wreckage from the operation’s surrounding wheat fields so that sprinkler systems can be put back into operation as soon as possible.

Other people helped remove rubble from the pens with the aid of heavy equipment and still others were clearing the milking barn down to its foundation.

“They (Mitchells) still need a lot of help,” said Michelle Heavyside, president of the local United Dairy Women. “We’re talking about organizing this again for next Saturday.”

Heavyside said crews she was with managed to clean up about half of one of the fields Saturday. She said there was twisted metal and steel and strange stuff nobody seemed to know where it came from.

Church groups, other dairy families and their employees, friends and extended family from the Mitchell clan pitched in. Volunteers also brought water, pizza and donuts for the workers.

According to Mitchell family daughter-in-law Jaimi Peterson, good progress was made on the demolition of the milk barn, but a lot of cleanup remains.

“I don’t think we could get a lot of this done without the volunteers,” said a tearful Peterson. “We just want to say a thank-you to everybody that helped.”

Peterson and her husband, Bryce, live nearby the dairy. While their home wasn’t damaged, they were displaced because of the lack of power and water. The power was back on earlier in the week, but they didn’t get back in the home until Saturday when a Dairy Farmers of America milk tanker was brought to their house to provide water.

“We’re sure glad to have them,” said Grande Vida partner Stanley Jones of the volunteers. “It helps.”

Jones estimated the number of cows lost to the tragedy at more than 300 head. All-told, he said the damage at the dairy will likely be $3 million to $4 million.

Jones said the milk barn will probably be taken down to the foundation, and they’ll start over from scratch. He said even if things went really well, it would likely be four to six months before the dairy could be rebuilt.

He said representatives of the Small Business Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency did assessments at the site. He said help from SBA is likely available but FEMA is less certain.

National Weather Service officials say the storm was probably at its strongest in the area of the dairy.