Texas ranching industry reeling from storm and blackouts

Biting cold and power outages have created a crisis for some Texans farms and ranches, leaving the cattle dead from the exposure and raising fears that the herds food and water.

Forced closures of milk processing and feed manufacturing plants disrupt the state’s agricultural supply chains, industry the executives said. Some farmers are forced to dump milk tankers into fields because it cannot be processed, and state agriculture officials fear livestock may need to be euthanized if they cannot. to be watered and fed.


“No food, no water and no heat doesn’t make for a good situation,” says Sid Miller, Texas Agriculture Commissioner. Mr Miller said on Tuesday he was urging utilities to restore electricity in rural areas – some of which he says have been without power for more than 30 straight hours – while responding to calls from farmers losing calves to the cold and poultry farmers struggling with frozen water pipes .

A rare winter storm over the weekend and record high temperatures in parts of Texas caused demand for electricity in the state to exceed supply as thermostats were raised. At the same time, freezing temperatures forced some natural gas and offline coal-fired power plants, while wind turbines in west Texas, banks of solar panels froze and covered in snow. Texas electricity officials have called for spinning outages to manage the deficit, but in parts of the state these measures have led to prolonged stretching without electricity.

The Trinity River is mostly frozen after a snowstorm Monday in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP / Star-Telegram)

The situation has turned into chaos for some producers in one of the country’s richest livestock and poultry states. Texas had about 2.9 million cattle in feedlots in December, the highest number in the country, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The state’s dairies are home to the fifth-largest dairy herd in the country with approximately 613,000 dairy cows, and Texas is the sixth-largest producer of chicken, raising approximately 675 million birds for slaughter in 2019, according to the latest. USDA figures.

Sanderson Farms Inc., one of the largest chicken companies in the United States, estimated Tuesday that as many as 200 of its approximately 1,900 Texas chicken coops were without power, and dozens broke or froze water lines. Factories struggle to produce feed without regular access to natural gas or electricity, said JC Essler, executive vice president of the Texas Poultry Federation, and some chicken hatcheries have not been in operation. able to deliver chicks on time due to icy roads.


Select Milk Producers Inc., a Dallas-based dairy cooperative that processes and markets milk for more than 100 farms, was forced over the weekend to shut down its processing plant in Littlefield, Texas, after the supplier of Natural gas from the plant had to ration the supply to help heat residential homes. Separate closures of the co-op’s processing plants in El Paso and Lubbock have left Select’s general manager, Rance C. Miles, about 150 milk tankers each day that the co-op cannot process.

Now Select’s dairy farmers are throwing away this milk, which is worth more than $ 1 million daily, in their fields. Mr Miles said the quick shutdowns could have damaged equipment at Select’s plant and wasted milk would reduce farmers’ paychecks.

“You just have this system that’s based on time, deadlines and the cows that never stop milking,” Miles said. “It’s just a disaster for dairy farmers.”

Mr Miles and other Texas cattle ranchers said the disturbance brought back memories of last spring when Covid-19 rapid spread in processing plants and forced shutdowns of Restaurants and schools forced farmers to get rid of of milk that could not be used. In some cases, tens of thousands of pigs that could not be processed were euthanized.

For Brad Cotton, who raises cattle near Floresville, Texas, the main challenge has been watering his herd. Texan cattle aren’t used to snow and instinctively don’t recognize it as a source of moisture, Mr. Cotton said, letting it swing a sledgehammer to shatter the 2-3 inch ice covering his waterers. Monday he jumped on a four wheels leading a newborn calf out of the cold to a barn as its mother hurriedly followed.


“If we can thaw a bit, that’s the main thing,” Cotton said.

Between phone calls, Mr Miller spent part of the last few days driving his 60 head of cattle to a pond, where he broke the ice to let them drink as he tried to warm up in his truck.

“The main energy state has no power,” Miller said. “It’s crazy.”

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