Texas Livestock Industry Reeling Amid Frigid Winter Storm

Texas rancher works to feed and water cattle during Texas Winter Storm. (AP Photo: Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo: Orlin Wagner

People are not the only ones suffering in Texas where a frigid winter storm left millions of people without power. Farmers and ranchers are also struggling to keep animals alive in the bitter cold.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the salvage of the huge livestock industry in the state:

Forced shutdowns of plants that process milk and make animal feed are disrupting the state’s agricultural supply chains, industry executives said. Some farmers are being forced to dump tankers of milk on fields because it can’t be processed, and state agriculture officials feared livestock may have to be euthanized if they cannot be watered and fed.

The situation has turned into chaos for some producers in one of the country’s most livestock- and poultry-heavy states. Texas in December counted about 2.9 million cattle on feedlots, the most in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state’s dairies house the country’s fifth-largest dairy herd with about 613,000 milking cows, and Texas is the sixth-biggest chicken producer, raising about 675 million birds for slaughter in 2019, according to the latest USDA figures.

Sanderson Farms Inc., one of the biggest U.S. chicken companies, estimated Tuesday that as many as 200 of its approximately 1,900 Texas chicken houses were without power, and dozens have ruptured or frozen water pipes. Mills are struggling to make animal feed without steady access to natural gas or power, said JC Essler, executive vice president of the Texas Poultry Federation, and some chicken hatcheries have been unable to deliver chicks on schedule because of icy roads.

“No feed, no water, and no heat doesn’t make for a good situation,” Sid Miller, Texas agriculture commissioner, said in the Journal report. 

“Mr. Miller on Tuesday said he was urging state utilities to restore electricity to rural areas—some of which he said had gone without power for more than 30 hours straight—while fielding calls from cattlemen losing calves to the cold and poultry farmers struggling with frozen water pipes,” the Journal reported.

The Journal reported that Texas cattleman Brad Cotton said the biggest challenge is keeping animals watered.  He had to use a sledgehammer to break up three inches of ice to free up water troughs. 

“If we can thaw out a little bit, that’s the big thing,” said Mr. Cotton.

“Between phone calls, Mr. Miller spent part of the past few days leading his own 60 head of cattle to a pond, where he broke ice to let them drink while he tried to warm himself in his truck,” the Journal stated.

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