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Stray Voltage Claims: Answers To Frequently Asked Questions

Stray voltage is a significant problem for Minnesota and Wisconsin farmers. Studies have shown that even low levels of stray voltage can impact your livestock physically and immunologically. Dairy cows, in particular, are very sensitive to stray current and may suffer health problems and decreased milk production while you suffer financially.

What Causes Stray Voltage?

For electricity to flow, electrical currents must complete a full circuit. Electricity leaves an electrical substation on an electrical utility’s primary system and can be accessed by customers on their secondary system along the primary line. All electricity must return to the electrical substation. Electricity returns in one of two ways:

  • Through the electrical utility’s neutral line
  • Through the ground

While electricity can travel through either pathway, it favors the path of least resistance. Therefore, if the neutral line offers more resistance than the ground, more current will travel back to the substation through the ground than through the neutral line.

Stray voltage results from electrical current transitioning from the neutral line to the ground and vice versa. If an animal is in the way of the electrical current, the current will conduct through the animal to get to the other pathway. A cow’s hooves serve as a favorable contact point for electrical currents, especially when the cow stands on wet surfaces such as mud, concrete or manure. As discussed below, even very small voltages can significantly affect dairy cows.

Is My Utility Company Liable For The Financial Damages I Suffered From Stray Voltage?

Our job is to determine whether your farm has elevated stray voltage levels and the cause. Your utility company may be liable for your financial damages if their equipment caused your cows distress, health problems or decreased milk production. Some reasons that your utility company may be liable for stray voltage include:

  • Damaged utility lines (such as corroded or stretched lines)
  • Voltage load imbalances
  • Undersized neutral lines that cannot properly return voltage to the electrical substation
  • Lack of proper equipment inspection or maintenance

Note that the utility company is responsible for maintaining the primary electrical system that delivers power to your farm. Each farm is responsible for the secondary electrical system that is unique to their land. However, neglecting the primary system can cause problems within your farm’s secondary system.

What Behaviors Might Indicate That My Cows Are Suffering From Stray Voltage?

Individual animals have unique sensitivities to stray currents and may react differently to the same level of voltage. When cows are exposed to stray voltage, they feel a shock. Cows commonly react to the perceived shocks by:

  • Blinking
  • Flicking their ears
  • Twitching their nose
  • Lifting a leg off the ground
  • Flinching
  • Avoiding drinking or drinking urine on the ground
  • Unusual and excessive defecation in the milking parlor
  • Decreasing their water or food intake

Other Than Decreased Milk Production, How Can Stray Voltage Harm The Health Of My Cows?

Stray voltage can physically and immunologically impact livestock. In addition to decreased milk production, stray voltage may result in mastitis (udder inflammation), increased levels of stress hormones, a weakened immune system, hoof problems, reproductive problems or even death. It may also change the behavior of livestock, such as avoiding areas where she gets shocked such as waterers, stalls and even the milking parlor. 

What Level Of Stray Voltage Impacts Milk Production In Dairy Cows?

Stray voltage can be a problem for dairy cows even at low levels. For example, peer-reviewed research from the Journal of Dairy Science has shown that under 0.5 volts at cow contact can be problematic for dairy cows. In another paper, researchers observed distinct reductions in milk production when voltage as low as 0.5 volts was applied to waterers. If you see cow behaviors outlined above, you might have a stray voltage problem.

How Do I Know If Stray Voltage Is Responsible For My Cow’s Decreased Milk Production?

Stray voltage can take a while to diagnose since many factors can impact a cow’s milk production, including:

  • Diet
  • Disease
  • Temperature
  • Cow comfort
  • Handling and care practices

To definitively know whether stray voltage is a problem on your farm, you need an electrical expert to test cow contact areas. Typically, this step is only taken after a farmer has already sought input from a veterinarian who can rule out other underlying health concerns.

Our firm regularly partners with reputable and knowledgeable experts who have significant experience in identifying these issues on farms. If you are concerned that your cows are suffering ill-effects from stray voltage, we can guide you in the right direction.

Contact Us For Experienced Support

Bird, Stevens & Borgen, P.C. has served Minnesota and Wisconsin for more than 30 years. We are among the most experienced attorneys handling agricultural claims, including stray voltage. With our long record of representing farmers, we know the science and the issues that need to be identified to litigate a modern agricultural claim.

We understand the significant economic toll that high stray voltage can have on your farm. We will help you secure the compensation you need and deserve if your herd suffers from decreased milk production and other health problems.

While we prefer to settle these claims to your advantage and often do that, we are required to try these cases on occasion. We have a track record in farm litigation of victories with juries in sums exceeding $1 million. 

If you think your livestock is suffering from high voltage, contact our team today. We are happy to schedule a consultation to discuss your case. Call our Rochester office at 507-218-2392 or our Bloomington office at 952-209-9978. You may also contact us online.