First, you have to survive the cold, then you need clean water. Eventually, you need food.
In Texas, everything seemed under attack at once, and that’s a problem for a state that is home to 13 million head of cattle.
Texas ranchers worked overtime to haul water and hay to cattle to keep them alive during this freak winter storm, but some cows have already succumbed to unusual icy temperatures that also killed chickens, idled meat plants and threatened crops.
The deaths of baby cows in the top U.S. cattle state and struggles to care for surviving livestock are the latest challenges for ranchers who over the past year have dealt with COVID-19 cutting demand for meat at restaurants and shuttering slaughterhouses.
Ranchers said they are spending long, cold hours breaking up ice in water tanks and on frozen ponds so animals have something to drink. Icy conditions have turned diesel fuel into a useless gel in tractors. Ranchers said they are using gasoline-powered pickup trucks to transport hay that cattle can eat and use for warm bedding.
The cold will also kill oats for young cattle to graze on. Ranchers nationwide were already facing higher feed costs as corn and soybean prices soared to multi-year highs.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller told Reuters that baby chicks are freezing to death because there is not enough natural gas to heat hatcheries. He said dairy operations are dumping $8 million worth of milk down the drains daily because milk processing plants are without power. Grain mills across the state cannot manufacture animal feed without power either, Miller said.
The storm has killed at least 21 people across four states, and temperatures were forecast to remain 20 to 35 degrees below average across parts of the central and southern United States for days.