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What Happened?

Photo provided by Castro County Emergency Management via-Facebook
Photo provided by Castro County Emergency
Management via-Facebook

A fire broke out at South Fork Dairy farm, where thousands of dairy cows were trapped in holding pens waiting to be milked. The fire was eventually subdued, officials were stunned to find that 18,000 head of cattle died, representing about 20% of the cattle slaughtered in America on any given day. This surpassed the previous high, a 2020 fire at an upstate New York dairy farm that consumed about 400 cows.

How did it happen?

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The cause of the fire is still under investigation by fire officials, but it's believed to have started from a malfunction in a piece of farm equipment that may have caused an explosion. Most of the dead animals were in a large holding pen before being milked, and the 18,000 cows represented about 90% of the farm's total herd, consisting of a mix of Holstein and Jersey cows.

What Does it mean for dairy prices?

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The farm's losses in livestock could get into the tens of millions of dollars, not including equipment and structure loss. Texas ranks fourth nationally in milk production, and Castro County is the second-highest-producing county in Texas, with 15 dairies yielding 148 million pounds of milk a month. Even by Texas standards, South Fork Dairy was a one of the largest, with 18,000 cattle that made it nearly 10 times larger than the average dairy herd in Texas.

What happens to the 18,000 dead cows?

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State and dairy officials are now faced with the  task of cleaning up the 18,000 burned carcasses, which involves following several rules for onsite burial of carcasses, including burying the animal at least 50 feet from the nearest well and recording GPS coordinates of the site. The environmental quality commission and the AgriLife Extension Service are teaming up to assist in the cleanup, but the scale of the tragedy is unprecedented, leaving officials grappling with how to dispose of so many animal carcasses.

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