Five cows struck dead by lightning was just one of the consequences of wild weather in the Waikato last week.

The cows were sheltering under a poplar tree on a farm south of Te Awamutu when they were zapped about 9pm on Friday.

The Ngāhape Rd sharemilkers, who wish not to be named, made the horrific discovery the next morning.

The lightning strike damaged the poplar tree and zapped five nearby cows. Photo / Supplied
The lightning strike damaged the poplar tree and zapped five nearby cows. Photo / Supplied

They say the event has left them shaken.

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"We heard some loud cracking noises but didn't think much of it. It wasn't until my husband got up about 4.45am to get the cows out of the paddock when he discovered the five dead cows.

"It was a shocking sight. The cows were in awkward positions. Their legs had gone skewiff and they didn't look normal. They bled from their anuses, mouths and noses. There was a bit of blood and froth coming from those directions.

"We've tried to keep the kids away from it. It gave us a hell of a fright."

The sharemilkers struggled to move the remaining cows out of the paddock the next morning for milking.

"They were distressed and didn't want to leave the five cows by the tree."

It's a costly incident for the sharemilkers, who estimate the cows to be worth at least $1800 each.

It is the second such incident in the last fortnight. Earlier this month Maateiwarangi Heta-Morris posted a video on Facebook showing footage of a group of cows lying lifeless on a dirt road near Hamilton, accompanied by the caption "Be safe whanau ... the bro just sent me this video of his cows getting smoked by lightning. Meat for days."

Adam Hittmann, a vet from Vetora Te Awamutu who visited the cows involved in the latest incident, says more awareness needs to be raised about the risks of lightning to animals.

"When the weather is bad, cows shelter under trees," Hittmann says.

"The tree gets struck by lightning and the lightning comes down through the tree and radiates out through the roots. It's particularly bad in trees with roots that spring out under the ground. It's like the death zone.

"In this case, the cows died on the spot — there was no kicking or struggling.

"The fifth cow got a fatal shock, but it wasn't enough to kill her on the spot, and she staggered out 20m from the tree and sat down and died."

Hittmann says fences struck by lightning could also kill or injure animals standing nearby.

He says it's not uncommon for cows to be distressed after losing members of their herd.

"Cows are herd animals, so anything that happens to animals within the herd creates a level of stress. I imagine if five of their herd mates have died, they will behave quite differently."

Hittmann has warnings to farmers in the case of thunder.

"I would recommend to farmers that if there is thunder activity forecasted to not put cows in a paddock on the tops of hills with tall trees.

"Cows will stand under a tree and the trees are higher and more likely to be struck. It's better to put them in a paddock with small trees or no trees."