Texas farmers worked overtime dragging water and hay to the livestock to keep them alive during a bizarre winter storm, but some cows succumbed to unusually icy temperatures that also killed chickens, meat plants and endangered crops.
The death of baby cows in the US top state and the struggle to care for the surviving livestock are the latest challenges facing ranchers who have dealt with COVID-19 in the past year in reducing the demand for meat in restaurants and shutter slaughterhouses.
In Texas, home to more than 13 million cattle, ranchers spent long, cold hours breaking ice in water tanks and frozen ponds so animals could have a drink. Icy conditions turned diesel into a useless gel in tractors. Ranchers said they used gasoline-powered pickup trucks to transport hay that livestock can eat and use for warm bedding.
Kaylin Isbell, a farmer in Florence, Texas, said a few cows and sheep had died after birth. Babies are especially vulnerable to the shock of the cold when they leave their mother's warm womb covered with moisture. Isbell said her mother-in-law took newborn sheep to a spare room in her house to keep them warm.
The cold will also kill the oats that Isbell has planted for young stock to graze, she said. As a result, Isbell said she should sell the animals earlier than expected, which will reduce her profit margins.
Farms across the country were already facing higher feed costs as corn and soybean prices rose to multi-year highs.
& # 39; We just keep going, & # 39; Isbell said. "That's all you can do."
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller told Reuters that chicks freeze to death because there was not enough natural gas to heat hatcheries. He said dairies dumped $ 8 million worth of milk into sewers every day because milk processing plants have no power. Grain mills across the state also cannot produce animal feed without power, Miller said.
"We have a problem with animal welfare," he said.
Major meat processors such as Cargill Inc and Tyson Foods Inc. said they have suspended operations at some factories.
In Whitesboro, Texas, fifth-generation farmer Austin Miles said he fills a 300-gallon red tank with water from a hose near his parents' house two to three times a day and takes it to the livestock to drink. The pond they would normally drink from froze, he said.
"This is extreme for us," said Miles. "Our infrastructure was simply not quite ready for these prolonged cold spells."
The storm killed at least 21 people in four states, and temperatures are expected to remain 20 to 35 degrees below average for days in parts of the central and southern United States.
Livestock can develop respiratory problems as the freezer gives way to warmer temperatures, said Missy Bonds, assistant general manager of her family's farm in Saginaw, Texas.
& # 39; Mother Nature Needs a Xanax, & # 39; she said.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; edited by David Gregorio)
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