Cyclone Gabrielle: Cattle left unmilked as power outages stifle farmers

Damage to power poles and lines in Ruawai is extensive, as seen in this photo taken at a dairy farm on Smith Canal Rd off State Highway 12 in Ruawai. Photo / Northpower

Northland farmers say their cows and livelihoods are suffering as drawn-out power cuts have prevented them from milking their herds.

Cyclone Gabrielle’s severe winds, gusting up to 140km/h in some places, have toppled power networks region-wide, putting farmers in the precarious position of not being able to carry out vital daily tasks.

Some farmers in rural Northland have already been without power for days, and potentially may not have electricity restored for a week.

Dargaville dairy farmer Mohammed Jamal said the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle was the “worst experience” he’d had in his 20 years of farming.


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He hasn’t been able to milk his cows since Saturday, and it’s unknown how long it will take until power is restored.

About 30,000 Northpower customers in Whangārei and Kaipara are currently without power.

Northpower chief executive Andrew McLeod told MoreFM on Tuesday that additional crews from further south outside of Northland had been brought into the region to help bolster their resources.

McLeod said repairs would be “a progressive rebuild” that could take a week for some areas.


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Jamal said in the meantime, cows were going to get mastitis and their milk supply would drop significantly.

Cows were already finding it “pretty hard” to walk, he said.

The aftermath of such a break in milking could be devastating, coupled with the costly venture of treating mastitis and the time needed to ensure the milk supply comes back up.

In the meantime, he has placed his cattle on a hillside with trees so they are sheltered.

Jamal said they were currently stressed and tired, but the aim as soon as power was back on was to get the “same routine” up and running.

“All of the farmers [in Northland] are affected by this,” he said. “It’s quite stressful.”

Ruawai dairy farmer and former Kaipara mayor Greg Gent said Cyclone Gabrielle was worse than Cyclone Bola in terms of the damage caused so far.

Flooding and downed power lines are putting pressure on dairy farmers in Ruawai. Photo / Northpower
Flooding and downed power lines are putting pressure on dairy farmers in Ruawai. Photo / Northpower

Sunday’s power outage impacted him badly, as he has been unable to milk about 2000 cows. However, a quick power restoration on Monday allowed him to milk cows that afternoon before it went out again.

”In my 66 years, I’ve never seen a storm this [bad]. This is worse than Bola, in terms of damage. There’s lots of water sitting everywhere. I lost a couple of sheds from gale-force winds, and seven of the power poles have literally blown over in the paddock,” Gent said.

He is trying to source a generator to do the milking.


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While some farmers are unable to milk their cows, others have nowhere for the milk to go.

A Far North farmer was given no choice but to dump their milk, generously offering the local community the chance to collect some before it went to waste.

General manager of national transport and logistics at Fonterra, Paul Phipps, said access to farms north of Whangārei was “severely limited” by the impact of the storm on the region’s roads – making milk collections difficult.

“Supporting farmers is a top priority, and we are getting in touch with those directly affected. We are doing everything we can to minimise the impact and are working through the logistics.”

Another challenge is the pressure on supply chains as ports and railways have been closed, Phipps said.

Northpower said the substation and multiple poles in Ruawai and the surrounding areas were down, and flooding meant its lines crews were unable to access them.


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The company has warned customers in the area to prepare for an extended outage of several days, at least. Thirty power poles are down on the two main lines to Ruawai.

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