Livestock Lawsuit: Dairy farm gets millions for shocked cows - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Livestock Lawsuit: Dairy farm gets millions for shocked cows

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GRANT COUNTY, WISCONSIN -- A dairy farming family says underground currents from old power lines killed hundreds of their cows and sank milk production. Tuesday, a Grant County, Wisconsin jury agreed, awarding the Bollant family $5 million in damages to be paid out by Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperative.

A few years ago when the costly trouble was seemingly unending, Steve Bollant says he and his brother Tommy were ready to give up the family dairy business.

"I was done. I was not doing it anymore. I just couldn't take it anymore," Steve Bollant said. "It was just a plain nightmare is what it was."

The Bollant family started farming more than a century ago, going into dairy in 1956. Bollant notes the family has been recognized for top-notch farming, even winning awards for milk quality from the company they sell to.

That's why he says he was bewildered when big problems started in 2002 when they moved cows into a new barn.

"It was just unbelievable. We lost hundreds of cows. Hundreds of cows, and milk. We'd dump milk down the drain for bad milk, and the veterinarian bills were anywhere from 12,000 to 17,000 some months," Bollant said.

The barn was built near decades-old Scenic Rivers Co-op power lines. Christopher Strombaugh, one of the Bollant family's attorneys, says the lines dated back to the 1930s and the New Deal program to bring power to rural areas (the Rural Electrification Act).

The Bollants had heard of electricity causing problems for farmers. They hired experts who found stray voltage was going into the ground, instead of completing a circuit. They also called the co-op.

"We had Scenic Rivers come out and test. They said we didn't have a problem, but then our guys say, putting it in the ground, 96% going in the ground, and was coming right through our barn."

Eventually, the co-op did replace the lines, but a couple years after that, Strombaugh says the co-op incorrectly installed a meter on one of the poles near the barn, again sending electricity through the ground.

The Bollants say the animals were getting hurt, dying, and weren't able to produce milk. They also say they and other workers were in pain as well (though Strombaugh says the jury wasn't able to hear any testimony about it).

"Our feet would hurt so bad, and we'd go home and take showers and our feet would just burn," Bollant said

In 2008, the meter problem was fixed and the stray currents stopped going through the barn. Bollant says since then, his more than 500 cows are healthy and have nearly doubled their daily milk production. The farm is now producing more than a semi load of milk each day.

"Just night and day's difference. You just can't believe it."

The Bollants say they didn't want to take the issue to court and were hesitant to file a lawsuit. But Steve Bollant said the money lost was getting to be too much, and that this problem happens at other farms, so he wanted to stand up for all of them.

"This is our family life, our family farm, and we lost all these cows and you know, somebody, we had to stand up for it," Bollant said.

Strombaugh calls this verdict "a drop in the bucket" because there is no program to replace the old power lines running through rural areas. He says other farmers undoubtedly face the same problems with various energy companies.

Co-op officials say they respect the jury's decision, but they maintain their employees did the tests they were trained to do by the USDA and State Public Service Commission.. The co-op says it is considering an appeal.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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