"In the areas in the tornado's path [there is] extreme destruction -- everywhere from equipment loss to facility loss, everything from feeders to barns to tractors," said former Bartow County Extension Agent Greg Bowman, who now is serving as the coordinator for the Gordon County Extension Office. "Some places, there's not many trees left on the place that didn't experience at least a little damage and [there is] extensive fence loss on some of those [farms]. It's going to take a long time to get things close to back to normal. ... They're just in the mode right now of trying to do as much cleanup as possible.
"A lot of the farmers are working together and pulling together and helping each other out because in my estimate you're looking at months and months of repair to property. ... It's pretty bad out there. There's going to be a lot of stretches that's just going to really have to be bulldozed [to] start again. Weather is amazing. At that stretch, it pretty much hit everybody, but I've seen some of the other storm damage in other counties [where] a building [was] destroyed here but [in] 100 yards, it's not touched. But it seems like our stretch, everybody got hit."
On Tuesday, Bowman was one of more than 30 volunteers who participated in the Georgia Cattlemen's Association work day. Cleanup efforts were concentrated on several farms in the vicinity of Richards and Cass-White roads, such as those owned by Cattlemen's Association members Dean Bagwell and Steve Taylor.
"At the cleanup, a lot of what we were trying to do was clear grazing land of scattered lumber, shingles, things that still had nails and sharp debris and things that would hinder the animals from actually grazing," Bowman said. "Because what we're about to head into is -- it's almost time to start hay production as far as mowing hayfields to bale bay.
"A lot of things that had blown into the pastures, even some of the crop land, you've got to clean that up [because] you can damage equipment. If you were to run that piece of machinery and get a piece of tin or nails caught up, you'll have flat tires or actually could do some internal injuries to those pieces of equipment. So [on Tuesday] we were trying to make pastures and crop land where they can actually turn animals back out or get out and even plant crops."
Thankful that none of the association's members were killed or badly injured, Josh White -- executive vice president for the Georgia Cattlemen's -- was delighted to help organize the work day. Along with Bartow residents, the volunteer cleanup-and-repair effort also drew individuals from Whitfield, Burke, Elbert and Madison counties.
During the work day, White joined Bowman, clearing debris at Taylor's farm.
"He runs a commercial cow-calf cattle operation. They lost basically the top of their barn," White said. "The top level, the loft and the roof of their barn was thrown off ... and they lost a lot of fences. What we were doing was picking up debris out of his pastures. He had moved his cattle to a pasture that was fairly clean. The fences were still up and didn't have a lot of debris in it.
"But the cattle needed to be moved back on some grass that was ready to be grazed, so we were just scouring probably about a 10- or 12-acre pasture and then a lot by his barn. [We were] trying to pick everything up, all the debris, all the stuff that would harm the cattle, and then help get trees off the fences so they could be fixed, so he could move the cattle back on for grazing. ... [At] Dean [Bagwell's farm], they were cleaning up debris out of a field that was ready to be planted. I believe he was going to plant corn or soybeans in that field. It had so much debris on it you couldn't run the tractor and equipment to get the planting done. With all of this stuff, timing is of the essence. The grass that we were trying to get the cows on, in two or three weeks it won't be nearly as nutritious for the cattle as it is today. And with planting the crops, you have to get them planted when the time is right. You can't plant too late."