Stray voltage: Underground electricity blamed for cow deaths
An Oxford County farmer says he’s lost more than 100 cows and millions of dollars to excess electricity.
Peter Stern runs a dairy farm near Drumbo.
On a regular basis over the past 13 years, he’s noticed a number of his cows consuming less water and producing less milk.
They also developed diabetes-like symptoms and other maladies.
“These cows would go down, and you would treat them, and there was no response to anything,” he said.
“In a matter of days … these cows would die. Financially, it’s destroyed us.”
The problem is stray voltage, also known as tingle voltage.
It flows under Stern’s farm, and through grounded metal objects like his milking lines.
It’s caused by electricity flowing through the ground on its way back to a transformer, which is the standard method of electricity transmission in Ontario.
Stray voltage isn’t an issue in urban centres, because enough electricity is grounded in those areas to dilute the volume of the voltage.
That’s not the case in rural areas, where farms are spread far apart.
Ontario Energy Board regulations mandate that stray voltage never exceed one volt.
For Stern, the deaths of his animals aren’t the only issue.
He says many of the cows that haven’t been killed by the electricity aren’t producing milk at typical efficiency levels.
As a result, Stern’s farm plummeted in herd management rankings.
In 2003, his Mapleridge Jerseys operation was ranked as Oxford County’s second best on that score.
By 2013, it had fallen 178 positions.
“We’re probably about as financially strapped as I’ve ever been,” he said.
Stern says he wants to see more government action to tackle the problem.
Hydro One has recently started a pilot program with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture aiming to do just that, by identifying and mitigating cases of stray voltage.