August 06, 2009

How do you dispose of 10,000 dead cattle?

Conference speakers to address lessons learned from Hurricane Ike

By: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191  
COLLEGE STATION – How do you dispose of thousands of dead cattle legally, quickly, economically and safely?

This was the question for Texas government officials and Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel after Hurricane Ike in 2008. "We believe about 4,800 adult cattle were lost and 5,600 calves were lost in the surge zone after Hurricane Ike," said Dee Ellis, assistant state veterinarian, Texas Animal Health Commission.

Only about 1,400 cattle casualties of Hurricane Ike cattle were buried in landfills or on site, Ellis said. Many cattle carcasses were inaccessible because of flooding or were never found. "Another hurricane season is upon us," said Dr. Saqib Mukhtar, AgriLife Extension agricultural engineer. "Massive animal mortality management without coordinating efforts among government agencies, volunteers and producers may become a logistical and disposal nightmare impacting people, property and the environment."

Mukhtar is the coordinator of the upcoming Texas Animal Manure Management Issues conference set for Sept. 29-30 at the Austin Marriott North in Round Rock. Speakers with hands-on experience with animal mortality management will present "Disposal of Catastrophic Animal Mortality - Lessons from Hurricane Ike" at the conference.

The early conference registration deadline has been extended to Aug. 20. Cost of registration is $75 by Aug. 20 and $125 thereafter. More information on the programming, hotel accommodations and speakers can be found at http://grovesite.com/tamu/tammi.

Other disasters can result in large numbers of dead animals that must be disposed of, said Robert E. DeOtte, Jr., associate professor of environmental engineering at West Texas A&M University and another conference speaker.

"In March 2006, the largest one-day wildfire in U. S. history engulfed 930,000 acres, resulting in the death of 3,000 to 4,500 head of cattle," DeOtte said.

Some of the questions DeOtte will address include:

– How are the resources for identification of dead and stranded animals to be found and organized quickly? – Incineration, burial, landfill and composting are all options, but how can emergency managers select the most appropriate one?

– How can different responders coordinate resources for a rapid and complete recovery after a catastrophic livestock and poultry disaster?

– What actions are the same and which are different between wildfires and hurricanes?

"Disposal works best when carcasses are found early and disposed before decomposition has advanced," DeOtte said. "The planning and logistics of the response dictate many of the disposal issues."

Mukhtar said the Texas Animal Health Commission, as the lead agency addressing animal issues during disasters, has been working with the Texas Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, AgriLife Extension and other agencies on new state-response plans using lessons learned from Hurricane Ike.

"The new plans will include carcass disposal contingencies through better local, state and federal plans and partnerships," Ellis said. "We are also working with new industry partners to assist with animal issues, both live and dead." Other issues that must be addressed are livestock ownership and reimbursement for producers, Ellis said.

Ellis emphasized that producers and industry groups have been involved and should continue to be involved in the planning process.

"The Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers organization was very involved using their special rangers to assist in the Ike response, and they along with other industry groups will be key participants in future responses," he said.

In addition to animal mortality management, other conference topics will include energy production from manure and new advances in animal manure management, Mukhtar said.

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