Kansas rancher speaks out after waking up to thousands of cattle dead at area feedlots
HASKELL COUNTY, Kan. (KAKE) - "It rained finally on June 6th and 8th, and we were so excited to have the moisture. Little did we know, it was going to backfire majorly on us," said Trista Brown Priest.
The humidity from that rain at Priest's feedlot Cattle Empire in southwest Kansas was an ingredient in what would become a horrible tragedy over the weekend.
"As soon as the sun came up, we saw that we had dead cattle in the pens," said Priest.
It was immediately all hands on deck for Priest and her sixty employees who care for 51,000 cattle. The scorching heat, high humidity and no wind became a deadly combination for the animals.
"What we decided to do was to put in bedding," said Priest.
Since the bedding is light-colored, it doesn't absorb as much heat as the dark dirt, giving the cattle a fighting chance.
But some were still dying.
"Just to be helpless and not know what to do to help them, or are helping them, is frustrating. It's heartbreaking," she said.
In the pens where the most cattle were dying, the team put in extra water tanks and moved them to the back, hoping they wouldn't eat, which creates more heat.
"The physical toll was intense, but that was right away in the first day or two. The emotional toll has been the longer-lasting part,"
Veterinarian Tera Barnhardt says the state has a protocol in place for dire situations it calls Emergency Burial.
"It is what it sounds like. We have to dig a large hole and then bury these animals," said Barnhardt.
Barnhardt says usually when cattle die, they render the bodies to use for other things like glue and tires, but in this case, there are just too many to process before the bodies spoil.
Priest says while it was one of the worst weeks of her life, she thinks it might also be a blessing in disguise.
"There's been a lot of talk in the last decades about how people are disconnected from farms and where their food comes from. And then, at the very least, this situation can help bridge that gap and open some conversations," said Priest.
Priest says cattle insurance does not cover heat losses, so a big challenge moving forward is figuring out how to recoup some of the huge financial loss.