Dorrigo dairy farmer Warwick Marks with some of the 68 cows killed by a lightning strike on his farm on Monday.
Dorrigo dairy farmer Warwick Marks with some of the 68 cows killed by a lightning strike on his farm on Monday.

Lightning strike kills herd ? 68 dead

By BELINDA SCOTT

'DEVASTATIONAL'.

It's Warwick Marks' own word for the loss of more than half his income and half of one of the region's top jersey milking herds in a single stunning blow.

A lightning bolt felled 71 dairy cows on the Marks' family's Fernbrook Loop Road dairy farm at Dorrigo about 11am on Monday, killing 68 of the prime herd, almost all of them registered studbook jerseys from the Marks' well-known Winvarl Jersey Stud.

Twisting his handkerchief in brown hands lined with years of hard work, Warwick Marks struggled to hold back tears as he watched his sleek, glossy cows being dragged away for burial in two large pits.

"We've had to cope with droughts and floods over the years, but this is the worst we've ever had to cope with," he said

"We've lost half our income and our capital."

Mr Marks said he had let the milking herd of 150 cows into the paddock only an hour earlier, to eat the lush feed along the Yarrum Creek flats.

Mr Marks, 57, had spent the morning working on re-roofing a shed, but had come down off the roof when he heard thunder.

It was a foggy morning, not a typical stormy day, but a single crack of lightning across the hills decided Mr Marks should check on his herd in their new paddock.

He said he arrived in the paddock only 30 minutes after the lightning bolt hit and could not believe his eyes when he saw the piles of corpses, already beginning to swell in the heat.

Cows still feeding on the flat when the lightning hit were scared but spared, but cows which had finished feeding and retreated from the heat to a belt of trees on wet ground on the stony hillside were sprawled on the ground as if hit by a bomb.

Three were still alive but seemed paralysed and unable to rise, but when Mr Marks returned with his gun to put them out of their misery the shocked trio were waiting for him at the gate.

The cows killed were the cream of his herd, 80 per cent of them young and all fresh in milk; all producing 20 litres per cow a day.

They were worth more than $100,000 at the most conservative estimate and like most farmers' cattle, they were not in-sured, because of the prohibitive cost of livestock insurance.

The Marks are one of dairy co-operative Norco's biggest suppliers on the Dorrigo Plateau and one of the region's biggest suppliers to Fast Freeze in Casino, where the rich cream from their jersey milk is skimmed and chilled for export to England.

Mr Marks is now left to try to support his family with half a herd of low-producing, 'stale' cows.

The Marks are a typical hard-working dairying family. Warwick Marks and his wife Kayleen have two children, Andrew, 17, an apprentice diesel mechanic with Stan Cork Machinery in Dorrigo, and Naomi, who is about to finish Year 8 at Dorrigo High School.

Warwick Marks is a third-generation Dorrigo dairy farmer. The family have been farming the same land since 1908 and breeding stud jerseys for more than 50 years. Andrew Marks shakes his head as he looks at the excavator pushing piles of dead cows into the pits.

"The only time I've ever seen anything like this was on TV with the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK," he said.

Amazingly, five years ago the Marks family lost 11 dry cows, just a week away from calving when lightning struck in a paddock about 500 metres from the latest strike. It was the first-ever loss from lightning on the farm.

That too was 'devastational', Mr Marks said, but the family and the dairy farm survived.



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