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18,000 cattle killed in Texas farm fire

By Sarah May
|
April 17, 2023

In a shocking incident at a dairy farm in Dimmit, Texas last week, a staggering total of roughly 18,000 cattle perished in an explosion followed by a massive fire, which also left an employee in critical condition, according to the New York Times.

The investigation into the cause of what is now being called the largest mass death of cattle in a single fire remains ongoing, and the cleanup process at the site is expected to take quite some time.

Devastating scene

As the Times noted, emergency calls began coming into authorities in the area just after 7:00 p.m. last Monday evening, after an explosion rocked the South Fork Dairy Farm in Dimmit.

Emergency responders arrived to the sight of thick, heavy smoke billowing over the farm and adjacent land, with the fire spreading quickly through holding pens containing primarily Holstein and Jersey cows.

The worker who was initially trapped inside a milking parlor was ultimately evacuated by helicopter for treatment at a Lubbock hospital and was said to be in critical, but stable condition the following day, as USA Today reported.

In the end approximately 18,000 cows died in the conflagration, a number that represented roughly 90% of the farm's total count.

Historic proportions

Sid Miller, Texas agricultural commissioner, indicated that the incident ranks as the “deadliest barn fire for cattle in Texas history, and according to the Times, that record likely also holds with regard to the entire United States.

The Animal Welfare Institute, a group that tracks barn fires, stated that since 2013, over six million animals have died in barn fires, but fewer than 1% of those fatalities have been among cattle.

Disasters which have claimed large numbers of cattle in the past have included blizzards as well as wildfires, the group further noted.

Officials in Dimmit, which sits southwest of the Texas city of Amarillo, have yet to declare what set of the explosion and fire, adding that the state fire marshal's probe remains in progress.

Massive scale of loss

USA Today reported that each of the cows at the farm were valued at roughly $2,000, and as such, the enterprise could be facing losses stretching into the tens of millions of dollars.

The sheer scope of the lost livestock is difficult to put in perspective, but the outlet indicated that 18,000 cattle standing between three and four feet apart would take up a space covering 26 football fields.

Not surprisingly, one of the most daunting tasks left in the aftermath of the tragedy is that of disposing of thousands upon thousands of cattle carcasses, and according to USA Today, state officials and representatives of the dairy were formulating plans last week as to how that process would be carried out.

Saqib Mukhtar, cattle disposal expert and associate dean at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, was quoted as saying, “I really don't know if [the cows] were all intact, how in the world you can manage this even within a month,” adding, “[i]t's a major, complex conundrum that they're in.”

Community saddened

In the wake of the fire, the Texas Association of Dairymen issued a statement saying that it was “deeply saddened for the family dairy and everyone affected by the tragedy.”

The advocacy group added that everyone involved had demonstrated admirable courage and resolve, presumably including the Brand family, owners of the South Fork Dairy, which was said to employ between 50 and 60 people.

According to a neighbor, the Brands are “a great family and customer” and they have the community's full support, as USA Today explained.

As evidence of that, local residents joined forces to provide lunches and dinners to the impacted farmers, according to the Times, only adding to the outpouring of assistance offered from across Castro County in the wake of the disaster.