Dozens of cows killed by lightning strike

Jared Blackwelder says each cow was worth up to US$25,000 each (Supplied)
Jared Blackwelder says each cow was worth up to US$25,000 each (Supplied)

A US farmer is distraught after 32 of his dairy cows were killed by a lightning strike after huddling together to shelter from the rain.

Missouri farmer Jared Blackwelder had just finished milking his certified organic cows early on Saturday (local time) and as he headed back to the barn, lightning struck a nearby fence which set it alight, the Springfield News-Leader reports.

While these cows died, some others last year survived another natural phenomenon in the Kaikoura earthquake.

He recalled the strike as being "so bright I couldn't hardly see".

It wasn't until later that day when Mr Blackwelder was heading to milk his cows for the second time he came across the grim scene.

"I went down over the hill and seen them laying there. They were just piled on top of each other. They were huddled up, trying to get out of rain," he said.

The cows' death by lightning was confirmed by a local vet who said the most he'd ever seen killed by a strike at one time was six.

Mr Blackwelder believed it was the same strike which hit the fences that killed his cows.

He was left saddened by the loss of the animals, estimated to be worth around US$60,000.

"It's not like they are pets. But the ones I'm milking, I've raised every one of them.

"It knocks you hard."

But amazingly, it isn't the first time Mr Blackwelder's cows have been killed by lightning. His father ran a beef cattle farm, while Mr Blackwelder started farming organic dairy cows in 2007 - over that time, he's seen three cows lost to lightning.

There are still around 120 cows on the farm and Mr Blackwelder says he's just thankful more weren't killed.

Around 240,000 people are injured by lightning each year, with around 24,000 of those dying as a result.

The rates for animals, however, aren't clear but there have been a number of cases which have been scientifically documented.

A study published in Marine Mammal Science last year concluded a number of sea lions found dead in South Australia were likely killed by lightning, with "faint jagged linear marks consistent with burning".

The study also looked at other documented cases which included caribou, wild turkeys and Canadian geese in North America as well as sheep, cows, elephants, antelope and giraffes.

Not all the animals are killed though - a bison in the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa was struck by lightning in 2013 and survived, but was left with a large burn on its back.

Sparky the bison (Karen Viste-Sparkman / US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Sparky the bison (Karen Viste-Sparkman / US Fish and Wildlife Service)

He was nicknamed Sparky.