The Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled on the side of two Southeast Minnesota dairy farms who sued Northern States Power County, a division of Xcel Energy, over allegations that stray voltage killed their cows. The original lawsuit asks for $5 million in damages.

According to the Midwest Rural Energy Council (MREC), stray voltage describes a special case of voltage developed on the grounded neutral system of a farm. If this voltage reaches sufficient levels, animals coming into contact with grounded devices may receive a mild electrical shock that can cause a behavioral response. At voltage levels that are just perceptible to the animal, behaviors indicative of perception such as flinches may result with little change in normal routines. At higher levels, avoidance behaviors may result.

Every once in a while, we hear from farmers across the country who claim that stray voltage is to blame for a variety of issues facing their herd. High SCC, poor water and feed intake, even death have all been described as symptoms of this debilitating farm site flaw. We will certainly admit that many of these farms certainly have stray voltage issues. And our sympathies are with them - stray voltage is a nasty problem to deal with.

However, stray voltage runs into its fair share of controversy. For some, it is seen as a scapegoat for other management issues. If you're going to use it as an excuse, you better know what you're talking about. In the March 25, 2008, issue of Hoard's Dairyman, Tom Wilson, an extension engineer, was interviewed about his experiences helping farms troubleshoot issues. Wilson remarks, "I have investigated 150 farms that thought they had stray voltage and only found two that had it."

Below we have attached a self-help guide from the MREC that includes essential information on recording data and collecting information before stray voltage is deemed the culprit. We encourage anyone interested in learning if their farm is falling victim to stray voltage to take a look at this very informative document.