Restoring the Dakin Dairy Farm after Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian caused more than $109.5 billion in damage in the state of Florida. Jerry Dakin’s dairy farm suffered a seven-figure loss of buildings and livestock.

Florida farmer gets help to rebuild after devastating losses

By Karen Whiting

Myakka City, Florida — As Jerry Dakin drove home amid the increasing winds from Hurricane Ian, he passed several cows laying near a fence. At 3 a.m., he received a call from a neighbor that dead cows lay along the fence beside their adjoining property. The veterinarian arrived soon after receiving a call. He gave several stunned cows molasses, glycol, and vitamins to wake them up and energize them, but more died. In total, he lost 360 cows, including calves. The shock from the storm killed the animals. Jerry’s brother, Cameron, lost about the same number of cows on his adjoining farm but sustained less property damage.

Hurricane Ian was the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history, with 155-mile-an-hour winds and flash flooding that brought up to 28 inches of rain in 27 hours in places and inflicted $109.5 billion in damage on the state in late September of 2022. According to the University of Florida’s analysis, nearly five million acres of agricultural land were affected, with $1 billion in agriculture production losses. In the past, the biggest loss for Jerry Dakin at once was eight cows. Dakin said, “There’s always a time when you step away and there’s a cry moment. This is my livelihood. I’ve built every bit of this.”  Despite the damage, he was grateful that all his employees and their families were safe.

As he surveyed well over a million dollars of damages that included the loss of all six barn roofs and debris everywhere, his hardest struggle remained the question, “Am I hearing from God, and what is the vision?” His most tremendous encouragement came from over 100 people who showed up and started helping. He saw how God worked through others. He realized that when God pushes us, he walks us through hardships.

The Dakin farm has generators for milking and processing equip- ment but not for getting water to drink. They processed 15,000 gallons of milk daily and had to continue milking the cows three times a day while working on the damage. Dakin moved the cows near the ponds and water sources but called on the community to bring in water, clothing, and food for workers who sustained damage to homes and possessions.

Help poured in quickly and also brought news of others in the community who needed help. Dakin turned the small café/store where they sold milk into a distribution center for people to drop off needed items, tools, and building supplies, or pick them up. Some people grabbed supplies and took them by canoe to give to people in flooded areas. In addition to supplies, the Dakin farm gave out hot meals daily. One woman commented that it was her first hot meal in three days, and she greatly appreciated it. The people who showed up gave Jerry Dakin a desire to jump in his truck and help others in the future.

After six days without power, a call to Tallahassee resulted in getting the power turned on. It only needed a minor repair. After the winter, as hotter days of spring approached, the roofs needed to be replaced to keep the cows cooler. More unexpected help came, this time from a Mennonite farmer in Pennsylvania who Dakin did business with through the years. Willis Martin offered help with the roofs. At first, it seemed unbelievable. When Dakin realized the men were actually coming, he found housing for Martin and his 40 volunteers.

Jerry Dakin and his dog Brie in a restored dairy barn

They arrived equipped with tools and ready to work. In one week, the men and youth replaced barn roofs, repaired a shed, and helped with other repairs. Dakin said, “It’s amazing how God worked when we had a disaster.” Dakin is milking 1,800 cows daily, still under the 2,200 he had before the hurricane. His next goal is to rebuild his stock. Some will come from breeding at the farm. Other cows he’ll need to buy. Insurance did not cover all the damage, and recovery is ongoing. After a recent fire in the hay shed, repairs are also needed there.

Dakin has realized there’s no need to worry about things that are not controllable but to leave those problems to God. “At the end of the day, you’ll see that’s easy to say but tough to do,” he said. Dakin said, “Everyone has different issues, but God is with us.” Farm tours restarted in May. The café store re-opened, serving a limited menu, and selling milk products. Previously, more than 15,000 visitors came to the farm every year for tours, breakfast, lunch, or community events held on the property.

In addition to bottling his own milk, Dakin also produces buttermilk, cheese curds, and eggnog. He works with the Jewish community to supply kosher milk, since the dairy farm uses sustainable farming and produces natural milk. That has meant having a mashgiach (Jewish supervisor) inspect the milking of the cows and processing of the milk, plus having prayers said over the cows. This gives them the rabbinical organization’s approval to use a kosher label.

The Dakin Farms have always helped in the community. They donate milk to scout groups, schools, and other organizations for special events. Jerry works with students involved in the Future Farmers of America, the 4H, and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs. In the spring, 80 students came over a four-day period to tour the farm and meet with Jerry.

In June, the Dakin farm held its first big event since the hurricane, Summer Days at Dakin Dairy. Local vendors sold food, candles, berries, and syrups. The event included live music, farm tours, a kiddy play area, and the farm’s dairy products. The farm also resumed a calf cuddling event where children of all ages can cuddle with calves and take photos. The tours, which end with free chocolate milk, share the sustainability methods used and ways the farm conserves water. The cows are grass-fed to produce better milk.

Dakin loves interacting with these young people, helping them love cows, and answering all their questions. Some of them come to work on projects or reports. At the end of the school year, he gives leadership awards to selected graduating students. He keeps and enjoys thank-you cards children send him to show their appreciation for the tours.

Jerry Dakin worked in dairy farming since childhood on his dad’s farm in Parrish, Florida, and later bought it from his dad with his brother. In 2001 Jerry purchased his current farm in Myakka City and grew it to 2,200 milking cows. He was named the Florida Farmer of the year in 2022, chosen out of 43,000 farmers in the state. He also has served on the Manatee County Farm Bureau board since 2001 and joined the Manatee County Cattlemen’s Association in 2004. In 2021, he was inducted into the Manatee County Agriculture Hall of Fame.

The Dakin brothers’ farms are the last of two dairy farms in Manatee County, Florida. Hurricane damage appeared overwhelming, especially after pandemic-related income losses that included dumping 7,000 gallons of milk daily at times due to supply chain issues. Those losses totaled 12 semi-trailer loads of milk. As Jerry Dakin said, “The cows didn’t stop producing milk when COVID-19 hit.”

In addition, supply issues caused problems. Some weeks there were no available bottles or bottle caps. At other times parts needed to repair trucks were hard to find. Jerry Dakin drove milk and posted locations on Facebook where people could purchase his products. He developed new contacts during the pandemic with grocery chains in his region who remained customers after the supply crisis. Income from the side business of selling compost and dirt sustained the farm.

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