CN August September 2023 Vol. 62 Issue 5

By Larry Stalcup Contributing Editor THE WORST OF PERFECT STORMS

of May; it helped break a two- to three- year drought. There had been isolated minor flooding. However, nothing had approached the 8 to 11 inches of rain that deluged the isolated area on May 27 – all in three hours between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. “This was a catastrophic amount of rain in a short time,” Weinheimer told CALF News in discussing information he received from the National Weather Service in Amarillo.“It was compared to a 500-year event in which 7 inches of rain falls within a six-hour period. There’s a 1-in-500 chance that you will receive 7 inches of rain in that short time – and this event was up to 1.5 times that amount of rain.” Eight Days of Purgatory Even with downpours, feedyard personnel can normally maneuver cattle out of flooded pens. By opening pen and alley gates, swimming cattle can be driven to higher ground. The shock that hit this particular feedyard prevented it. While the 11 inches of rain fell, pea- to marble-size hail smothered the isolated area. It measured a foot deep in colder- than-normal temperatures. As the water and hailstones mixed, they froze together. The large ice chunks blocked the path of cattle struggling to swim out of trouble. Their fate was set. “The feedyard crew used canoes and kayaks to help move the cattle,” Weinheimer explains.“The ice made it impossible. Cattle can swim – but they can't swim through icebergs.” Heartbreakingly, about 4,000 cattle drowned. Seasoned pen riders were helpless. But in respect, they showed the highest caliber of handling it “the cowboy way.” The feedyard’s owners, managers and the entire crew went to work to manage the situation. Weinheimer was contacted and immediately joined them to analyze the magnitude of the misery.

A plan had to be developed to pump out pens and remove the dead cattle from 6 to 7 feet of water that remained in the flood’s aftermath.“Other TCFA members provided us with information on oil field service operators to help obtain pumps powerful enough to move the water,” Weinheimer says.“By 2 a.m. on May 28, Quality Transfer Service from Hobbs, N.M., had the first pump transferring water.” TCFA contacted the owners of Reihert Hay Co. and DC Caliche from nearby Dawn, Texas, both long-time TCFA members, to secure three large caliche- mining trackhoes with 6-foot wide buckets configured with chains for the morbid retrieval process. People wearing waders worked tirelessly in the flooded pens. The trackhoes then transferred the cattle to large mining trucks and front- end loaders. About half were then taken to rendering plants operated by County Services Rendering facilities in Hereford (the former Merrick rendering plant) and Plainview. Once the plants could no longer accept the carcasses, those remaining were buried in a trench dug on the feedyard property. In the drudgery, crews worked from dawn to dusk. Reinhert Hay Co. and DC Caliche provided additional equipment and operators as the process evolved. They were among the many area businesses, organizations and dozens of family members and community friends to help in any way they could. “It was amazing to see the number of people from the Hereford area and throughout the High Plains that offered a helping hand. But we shouldn’t have been surprised. That’s the attitude people take in this part of the country,” Weinheimer says.

(Editor’s Note: The strength of Mother Nature’s power was evident in a catastrophic storm that led to the loss of about 4,000 cattle at one family-owned feedyard outside Hereford, Texas. This story examines the wrath of the storm and the endeavors made by the feedyard’s staff, workforce and a host of neighborly people and organizations in the event’s aftermath. With emotions still high, the feedyard owners wished not to reveal the feedyard’s name at this time. CALF News respects those wishes.) “Cattle can swim – but they can’t swim through icebergs.” Ben Weinheimer’s explanation of how 4,000 cattle perished in a freak flood/ hailstorm answers how the catastrophe caused such havoc outside Hereford, Texas, in late May. He stresses that only time can relieve the pain that lingers after the tragic event that struck one regional feedyard. Weinheimer is president and CEO of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA), an organization that represents about 200 member feedyards in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. TCFA works for member yards to obtain state and national legislation and regulatory guidelines fair to cattle feeders and the cattle business. It also provides safety, quality assurance, environmental and other feedyard efficiency training. If needed, it supports and guides feedyards in times of tragedy. The weather phenomenon that hit the 25,000-head capacity feedyard occurred several miles southwest of Hereford the weekend of May 27. The Texas Panhandle city is rightfully called the Beef Capital of the World. There are dozens of feedyards in the region, a key part of TCFA’s territory, which finishes about 28 percent of the nation’s fed cattle. Before the storm, the Panhandle had been blessed with rain throughout much


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