Cow photo via maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com
Written by David Castellon
High mortality rates among cattle due the recent heat waves in the Central Valley combined with mechanical problems at a rendering facility in Kerman prompted Fresno County supervisors to ratify on Thursday a proclamation of local emergency due to the growing number of livestock carcasses.
The heads of the offices of emergency services in each of the three counties declared emergencies last week, which authorized the operators of dairies and ranches in those counties to dispose of their cattle carcasses in ways other than sending them to rendering plants, which is required in normal circumstances.
Those declarations had to be ratified by supervisors in each county in order for them to continue, prompting special meetings Thursday.
Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright said the daytime heat isn’t the main problem for the cows. Nighttime temperatures not cooling below the 70-degree range make it hard for the animals to recover, resulting in higher-than-normal death rates.
As for how many cattle have died from the heat, the commissioners said they have only anecdotal information indicating the rate is higher than normal, but Wright said records of rendering plant pickups of carcasses show about 1,500 to 2,000 more a week than normal from Modesto to Bakersfield.
He told the Fresno supervisors that the high cattle mortality due to heat is a problem from the Bakersfield area north to Stockton.
Here in the South Valley, the situation is being aggravated because the only local rendering plant, Baker Commodities, Inc. in Kerman, experienced severe mechanical problems late last week that prompted it to stop picking up carcasses, said Wayne Fox, director of environmental health for Fresno County.
Those mechanical problems are a direct result of the heat-related livestock deaths, as so many carcasses were being picked up that the rendering plant was processing about 1.5 million pounds a day, about a half million more pounds than usual, said Jimmy Andreoli II, a spokesman for Baker Commodities.
“Because of the excess capacity, it lead to a mechanical malfunction” late last week that lasted only a few hours, but due to the high heat, the dead cattle yet to be rendered decomposed at a much faster rate than normal — many to the point that their flesh had liquefied and couldn’t undergo the rendering process.
So Baker had to have tons of carcasses removed from the plant and hauled to a specially-designated landfill. The liquid remains also had to be cleaned, which worsened the backlog of carcasses still on Valley dairies and ranches.
Wright told the Fresno supervisors that ranches and dairies in the northern end of the Valley are working with a Sacramento-area rendering plant to pick up their dead livestock, while he has been told an alternate plan has been worked out in Kern County.
He said he heard Madera County is working on its own emergency declaration, but county officials contacted today said they knew of no such plan in the works.
Meanwhile, carcasses in Tulare, Fresno and Kings counties are being left to deteriorate at faster-than-normal rates on dairies and ranches because of the ongoing heat wave.
Accuweather.com forecasts at least 10 more straight days of 100-degree and hotter temperatures, and 11 additional such days by month’s end.
All this creates a public health problem, prompting the need for alternative disposal methods, Fox said following the Fresno supervisors’ unanimous vote to continue the state of emergency.
The rules on sending livestock carcasses to rendering plants is intended to prevent burials, which pose risks of bacteria from the decomposing animals seeping into groundwater or washing into waterways. Because of the emergency declarations, the cattle owners will have the options of burying the carcasses — with restrictions on how close the graves can be to well caps and waterways — hauling the carcasses to a landfill authorized to receive them or composting them.
Officials noted that the only landfill in the South Valley authorized to take fresh carcasses is in Kettleman City, but there are restrictions on hauling them that include using air-tight truck trailers, which may be too difficult and costly for most livestock owners to do.
In addition, Fox noted that after several days of decomposing, livestock carcasses can be difficult to move.
And while burial is another option, Wright said his office recommends composting, which involves laying down a sheet of plastic and putting the carcass on top of it, with a layer of manure underneath it and a layer on top.
The composting process should break down the carcass while heating it up to the point of destroying bacteria, and after that’s done the carcass can be hauled to a closer landfill, he explained.
Fox said Fresno County’s state of emergency will remain in place only as long as it’s needed, and the Fresno supervisors will decide during their regular meeting on Tuesday whether to continue it.
Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita said she had heard Baker Commodities would be back in full operation on Monday, but the company picked up carcasses only on a limited basis while it continued to work out its issues.
“We are planning on opening tomorrow morning — being back to full strength and capacity,” Andreoli said Thursday.