Posted Feb. 10, 2016
A late December 2015 storm in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico may have killed tens of thousands of cattle.
In a Jan. 8 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller stated that the snowstorm that started in the Texas Panhandle Dec. 26 was estimated to have killed more than 25,000 cattle in Texas alone. The letter urged that the USDA issue disaster declarations for 11 western Texas counties so cattle owners there could apply for federal assistance, including emergency loans, and the request was under review at press time.
Katie Goetz, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, said her department had no estimates of how many cattle died in the state. And Dr. Ellen Mary Wilson, who was New Mexico state veterinarian until Jan. 13, said before she left the agency that she had seen wide variation among others’ estimates, which were produced while cleanup continued.
Dr. Wilson described a storm with unprecedented snow and extreme winds and cold. In a state disaster declaration, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez described a “massive statewide” snowstorm that dumped more than 16 inches in some eastern areas of her state, creating 8-foot-tall snowdrifts and life-threatening conditions.
Kirsten Voinis, a spokesperson for the Texas Association of Dairymen, said her organization estimates the storm killed upward of 15,000 dairy cattle in Texas. Milk producers there also lost about 24 million pounds of milk—about 2.9 million gallons—through a combination of inability to transport milk or harvest milk from herds following the storm, problems similar to those Goetz described in New Mexico.
Voinis said that surviving dairy cows were stressed and undergoing treatment for injuries. She said the area hit in Texas is home to about 140,000 dairy cattle and five of its top 10 milk-producing counties.
Goetz said the hardest-hit areas of New Mexico produce about three-quarters of the state’s milk, and dairies seemed to be harder-hit than beef herds that have wider space for the cattle to scatter and take shelter.
Beef cattle industries have taken some losses. For example, Jayce Winters, communications manager for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, said Texas feedyards lost about 5,000 cattle, about two-tenths of one percent of those in the area.