Ontario utility searches for stray voltage cause

Ontario dairy farm learns that an in-ground steel barrier has reduced the ground current that caused calves to die

THAMESVILLE, Ont. — The largest electricity distributor in Ontario is trying to get to the bottom of stray voltage problems on the province’s dairy farms.

A large crew from Hydro One and the firm Kinectrics settled in for a day’s work at Herbert Dairy Farm Sept. 30 to trace the source of suspected ground current.

Supporting this evaluation were members of the Uncontrolled Electricity Working Group, which comprises the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and Farm and Food Care Ontario. Stray voltage experts Lorne Lantz and Lee Montgomery, Herbert family members and the Electrical Safety Authority of Ontario also participated.

“To have everyone agree to come on the farm at the same time is probably pretty good.… They’re working for a common goal,”said Bruce Kelly with Farm and Food Care Ontario.

Patrick and Loretta Herbert simply want the problem fixed. They milk 30 cows but since 2008 have lost more than 40, usually in the weeks following calving.

Their son, Charles, said the problem affects his future on the farm.

“You can’t take over dead cows.”

The Hydro One employees on site wouldn’t comment on their findings, but Lantz, who has expertise in the area, said the problem is most likely ground current attracted to the farmstead from the overloaded distribution system.

He pointed to a meter he had attached to the in-ground steel barrier installed around the barn earlier this year. It detected amps even though the electrical service had been disconnected.

Lantz had recommended the installation of the barrier.

“The shielding is definitely doing its job,” he said.

The Herberts are reserving their judgment but say there have been positive developments since they installed the shield early last summer. Five cows have calved since the shielding was installed and none have died. However, the somatic cell count of their milk remains high.

Patrick Herbert hopes there will be gradual improvement, and Lantz, who said he based his observation on other dairy farms where he’s worked, suggested 75 percent of the cows may recover fully.

It’s believed that dairy cows are shocked by stray voltage in a substantive way because of their bulk and lack of rubber boots.

The Herberts have also tested their water, changed feed dealers, consulted veterinarians and in-stalled a Dairyland Isolater in an attempt to address the issue.

The family said it had a record of delivering high quality milk before 2009. Somatic cell counts then started increasing and animals be-gan dying.

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