18,000 cows die in an explosion; dairy farm fire could be biggest cattle killing ever

18,000 cows die in an explosion; dairy farm fire could be biggest cattle killing ever

The fire quickly spread through the barns, where thousands of dairy cows crowded together, waiting to be milked, confined in deadpan barriers.

After putting out the fire at a West Texas dairy farm Monday night, officials were stunned by the scale of the livestock mortality it left behind: 18,000 cattle perished in a fire at a South Fork dairy farm near Dimmit, Texas — or about 20% of the cattle. They slaughtered cattle in America any day.

A dairy farm worker rescued from inside the building was taken to hospital and was in critical but stable condition as of Tuesday. There were no other human injuries.

"It's mind-boggling," said Dimit Mayor Roger Mallon. "I don't think this has happened before here. It's a real tragedy."

It was the largest livestock fatality in the country since the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington-based animal advocacy group, began tracking barn and farm fires in 2013.

This easily surpassed a previous spike, said Ally Granger, a policy fellow at the institute: A 2020 fire on a dairy farm in upstate New York that consumed about 400 cows.

She said the Texas fire "is the deadliest cattle fire we know of." "In the past, we've seen fires involving several hundred cows at once, but nothing close to this level of mortality."

Where is the Texas cattle fire?

Castro County, the fire site, is an open prairie dotted with dairy farms and ranches 70 miles southwest of Amarillo.

Pictures posted by passers-by on social media showed a large column of black smoke rising from the farm fire and charred cows rescued from the building.

What caused the dairy farm explosion?

A malfunction in a piece of farm equipment may have caused an explosion that started the fire, said County Judge Mandy Geffler, the county's chief executive. She told Texas fire officials are still investigating the cause.

Mayor Mallon said he was unaware of any other fires reported at the facility. He said the dairy opened in the area just over three years ago and employed 50 to 60 people.

How many cows were killed in the dairy fire?

She said most of the dead animals - a mixture of Holstein and Jersey cows - had been in a large pen before being milked. The 18,000 cows represent about 90% of the farm's total herd.

With each cow valued at about $2,000, Geffler said, the company's livestock losses could run into the tens of millions of dollars. This does not include loss of equipment and structure.

"You look at a devastating loss," she said. "My heart goes out to everyone involved in that process."

How does a Texas dairy compare to the rest of the country?

Cattle were stranded on flooded pastures in LaGrange, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The storm drowned thousands of cattle in Southeast Texas.

Texas ranks fourth nationally in milk production, home to 319 first-class dairies with an estimated 625,000 cows producing nearly 16.5 billion pounds of milk annually, according to the Texas Dairy Association, a trade group.

And Castro County is the second-highest-producing county in Texas, with its 15 dairies producing 148 million pounds of milk per month, according to the USDA.

Even by Texas standards, South Fork Dairy was gigantic. Its 18,000 cattle made it nearly ten times the average dairy herd in Texas.

This is not the first time that large numbers of cattle have died in Texas, but rarely do so many cattle die in a single fire. According to the Texas Dairy Association, a December 2015 snowstorm killed about 20,000 cattle in the Texas Panhandle.

And Hurricane Harvey in 2017 drowned thousands more in Southeast Texas, resulting in $93 million in livestock losses across the state, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

What happened after that?

State and dairy officials take on the huge, messy task of cleaning up the 18,000 charred corpses. On its website, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality lists

There are several rules for burying carcasses on-site, including burying the animal at least 50 feet from the nearest well and recording the GPS coordinates of the site. However, nowhere is he mention mass graves.

Officials said the Environmental Quality Commission and the AgriLife Extension Service are collaborating to help with the cleanup.

Malone, the mayor of Dimmett, said he had taken emergency management courses that teach how to dispose of animal carcasses after a disaster — but not on this scale.

"How do you dispose of 18,000 bodies?" "It's something you don't come across often," said the mayor.

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