Challenges Remain After Wildfires Extinguished

Cattle walking in pasture with smoke from a wildfire
Cattle walking in pasture with smoke from a wildfire | Image by Todd Johnson/Oklahoma State University Agricultural Communications Services

Even after devastating wildfires are put out, ranchers remain burdened, with many having to face painful choices over what to do with injured livestock.

It is estimated that 7,000 animals may have perished in the recent blazes, with some estimates saying the number could grow to 10,000. In many cases, surviving cattle will likely have to be euthanized after suffering burnt udders and hoofs during the wildfires.

In total, roughly 2,000 square miles of grasslands were burned in Texas during the recent disaster. These grasslands are critical for feeding tens of thousands of cattle.

Approximately 11 million head of cattle — comprising more than 85% of the cattle population in the state — are located in the Panhandle region of Texas.

Jay O’Brien runs a ranch outside Stinnett that has been devastated by wildfires. Some portions of his property were hit with small blazes that predated the recent record-setting event that swept across the Texas Panhandle. Now that the most recent blaze is over, O’Brien must make tough decisions about the future of his injured livestock.

“We do the best we can… We’ve all had pets where we had to make a decision on what’s best for them. It’s hard to find a cowboy or rancher who doesn’t care for their animals,” O’Brien told The Texas Tribune.

To make matters worse, many ranchers must now wait years for grasses to regrow and cattle to return. Some are also facing significant damage to huge lengths of fencing that span their property lines, another cost arising from the recent disaster.

The fires not only destroyed many of the barriers keeping livestock close to home, but they also drove animals out because of the searing heat. That means many ranchers have unaccounted for cattle, unsure if they have perished or remain lost.

As reported earlier this month by The Dallas Express, one North Texas man, Garret Duval, took it upon himself to rescue an orphaned calf injured in the wildfires. The young cow was found covered in burns, standing beside her deceased mother.

So far, the State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund has received over $800,000 in donations from 1,600 individuals. The funds are meant to help farmers and ranchers in the state that have been devastated by the Panhandle wildfires.

As of the morning of March 14, the record-breaking Smokehouse Creek Fire is 89% contained.

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