By Thomas Garcia, PNT Staff Reporter
A Roosevelt County dairy owner has rebuilt 98 percent of his facility since it was destroyed by a tornado last March 23.
The event has left Mike Mitchell, owner of Grande Vida Dairy, with a new respect for the forces of nature and a thankfulness for friends and neighbors.
The estimated damage to the structures at the dairy was more than $2 million and the livestock loss was about $735,000, Mitchell said. The dairy lost 350 cattle to the storm.
Mitchell replenished his herd and is now milking 2,400 cattle. which is about 450 more than when the storm hit.
“There is still some loss from production but it is becoming less and less as the months go by,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said production has been affected because there are several cows that need to have calves. A dairy cow has peak production two months after having a calf. The storm has slowed that process due to stress and timing, he said.
All the structures damaged or destroyed by the tornado have been rebuilt. A year has made a difference, Mitchell said. People are not as stressed as they were just six months ago. These last three to four months things have evened out.
“We were milking our cattle at Arch until July 17,” Mitchell said. “It has helped greatly to get back to our own facility.”
It is a miracle the Grande Vida Dairy has been rebuilt and is back in operation so soon, said Michelle Heavyside, founder of United Dairy Women and partner of nearby Greenfield Park Dairy.
“I saw the destruction at the dairy the day of the tornado,” Heavyside said. “It looked like a bomb had gone off. It is just wonderful that Mike has the dairy up and running.”
Volunteers aided Mitchell and his family in the cleanup of the debris from the tornado. A livestock auction, sponsored by Portales Livestock owner Randy Bouldin, generated $136,375 to help the Mitchells.
“I would like to thank everyone that helped us clean up, recover and rebuild,” Mitchell said. “It meant a lot for the community and fellow dairy owners to come together and help us out.”
Even after a year Mitchell can still recall the events of the day that the storm hit the dairy.
“I was in the parlor when my daughter called me and said ‘There are tornadoes in your area,’” Mitchell said.
Mitchell heard the debris from the storm start to fall on the milk barn and when the roof and walls began to buckle he sought shelter between the milk tanks.
“I was between the milk tanks but the doors at the ends of the hallway flew open and it was like a wind tunnel,” Mitchell said. “The noise stopped and I walked outside for a moment and saw the tornado across from the pens and it started back so I took cover again.”
The entire milk barn was destroyed except for the hallway and office on the northeast corner, Mitchell said.
“We were fortunate that we were between shifts; that limited the amount of people that were at the dairy when the storm struck.”
People have been asking Mitchell if he’s ready for tornadoes now that the storm season is coming up.
“I can’t help but cringe when I think about tornadoes,” Mitchell said. “We are going to be watching the clouds a lot closer and keep updated on the weather reports. You don’t want to talk about tornadoes but you sure want to be ready if one were to strike.”