Drop Hay To Cattle In Southeast Texas
Hay drop to save
cattle underway in Southeast Texas
The drama still continues
two weeks after the storm, cattle still lost or stranded, ranchers unable
to reach remote areas where flood waters remain standing in fields and
roads are still closed and impassable.
rescuers have moved from saving people from drowning in their homes to
saving cattle from starving to death in flooded fields.
At the time of landfall
on Aug. 25, Hurricane Harvey was the strongest tropical system to reach
the U.S. coast line in over a dozen years. The powerful storm packed sustained
winds of 135 mph with gusts well over 155 mph, a category 4 major
storm that devastated communities on the mid-Texas coast.
The devastation in
its wake is enormous, especially in communities like Rockport, a popular
fishing and retirement community on the Texas coast, and Port Aransas,
located on a barrier island just offshore from Corpus Christi. At one point
more than 30,000 were harbored in public shelters, many still sheltered
there, their homes destroyed and their family belongings lost forever.
In rural areas stretching
from Corpus Christi and over 300 miles up the coast to the Louisiana border,
farms and ranches and small communities dot the rural countryside. This
is cotton and grain country, and also home to over a million beef cattle
and other livestock. The losses have been staggering, up to $200 million
to agricultural interests alone.
And the drama still
continues over two weeks after the storm, cattle still lost or stranded,
ranchers unable to reach remote areas where flood waters remain standing
in fields and roads are still closed and impassable.
Air drops only
Federal, state and
civilian help has been pouring into the area since the storm ravaged the
state, including National Guard units from 11 states. State parks and wildlife
biologists and rescue workers, animal health rangers and civilian volunteers
from across Texas and beyond responding to the livestock drama unfolding
across the hardest hit areas.
Many cows and steers
have been located, but with no way to reach the animals, they remain stressed,
in poor health, many are starving for lack of food. Some are stuck in mud,
or sheltered on small patches of dry land surrounded by flood water.
units from the Texas National Guard, from Alabama, Oklahoma, Louisiana
and Mississippi and other states are responding, loading bales of hay and
launching what promises to be the largest air drop of hay in history, an
attempt to provide rescue food for livestock until waters finally recede
and herds can be collected, treated, and moved to safety.
Many ranchers have
already reported huge losses, some losing well over 50-percent of their
herd to flood waters, many more still missing.
Danny Phend of Phend's
feed and livestock store in Winnie, located mid way between Houston and
Beaumont, reported to NPR Radio that the numbers of lost cattle will be
devastating when all is said and done.
“Most of our customers
are not even able to find the majority of their stock, only about 20 percent
of their herds for some,” Phend reported. “Around here cattle and rice
are a big deal.”
The losses to both
have been high.
every lost cow represents a $1,000-$2,000 loss for ranchers, and the numbers
of lost or dead animals keep rising. As military helicopters fly above
flooded fields, they are reporting “dead animals everywhere.” No one seems
ready to guess how many animals may have perished, but most agree, the
total will be devastating.
Texas Army National
Guard pilot Randolph Robinson flies a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter, a large,
dual rotary-blade chopper designed to carry heavy loads of military equipment
and personnel. In recent days it has been filled with bales of hay donated
by farmers and ranchers across areas of Texas and other states outside
the zone of storm destruction. Flying missions from dusk till dawn, Robinson
and other National Guard pilots have been air dropping those bales when
they spot cattle stranded and hungry.
"Roads are still
underwater, areas where folks' homes are located are still underwater,"
said Robinson. “But our focus right now is on saving the cattle. We had
a group of ranchers asking for help [because] cows had been stranded since
the storm came ashore, and they are not in good shape. No one can reach
them in these remote areas, and they are hungry.”
Choppers have been
flying non-stop as state animal biologists and state animal health veterinarians
with the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) attempt to identify where
small groups of animals are stuck in mud or stranded in water from aerial
photographs, from satellite photos and by using UAV (drone) fly-overs.
Pilots and flight
crews say the choppers are flying the same way they do in combat missions.
Once they drop their loads of hay, they return to a landing area and never
power down as ground crews load more bales of hay inside the aircraft for
continuous runs back and forth across affected areas to stranded cattle.
In recent days, the
skies over Southeast Texas have become crowded with helicopters. More Chinooks
are arriving from National Guard units from as far away as Utah and Ohio,
offering machines and extra hands to handle the cattle emergency.
“We found a tremendous
number of cattle stranded in areas that were inaccessible and wouldn’t
be accessible for quite some time in Jefferson and nearby counties,” said
Lt. Tony Viator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. “We began
dropping hay, but we quickly realized we wouldn’t be able to support that
mission over such a broad region. So we contacted the Guard and they sent
Zach. We couldn’t have done this without his help.”
Chief Warrant Officer
Zach Koehn from the 149th Aviation Regiment of the Texas National Guard
explained that the hay-drop operation was a state-mandated effort to restore
a $25 million livestock industry investment and protect Texan livelihood.
More than ranches
“It’s not just the
ranchers, it’s the truckers that carry the cattle and feed, its the veterinarians
that take care of the cattle’s medical needs. Nationally this is where
a lot of meat comes from and it has the potential to raise the price of
beef nationwide,” Koehn said.
Many local ranchers
came to pitch in moving bales of hay onto the trailers and into the helicopters.
“These guys aren’t
getting paid to be here,” said Koehn. “They’re here because they know it
needs doing for their community, and we’re thankful for all of their help.”