For San Franciscans, the relative heatwave of this summer simply means “shorts weather” for big holidays like July 4, some interesting heat-related tweets, and perhaps a flex alert or a Spare the Air Day. For ranchers in California’s Central Valley, though the AP reports that the heat is killing off cows by the hundreds, wreaking havoc on dairy production, and that a facility that processes livestock carcasses can’t take any more incoming so farmers have to bury and compost their own dead animals onsite.
“These last couple days have been torturous on a lot of cattle,” rancher Hank Van Exel tells CBS 13 Sacramento in video above. Van Exel has more than 6,000 cows, but nine consecutive days of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees has him resorting to emergency hacks like fans and mist machines to keep them alive. He estimates that his milk production has dropped 16 percent because of the heat wave. “It’s going to have a significant effect in the whole state, on milk production,” he says.
According to the Fresno Bee, cow carcasses in the Central Valley are typically processed at a grease collection and animal byproduct rendering plant 15 miles from Fresno called Baker Commodities (who knew!). That Baker Commodities facility was already facing a backlog of cow carcasses thanks to the heatwave, and a recent mechanical malfunction at the plant is setting them back even further. This all led the state’s dairy authorities to issue a gruesome-sounding Emergency Morality Disposal Advisory giving guidance on handling “extensively decomposed deadstock” and composting or burying the cows’ remains in emergency landfills.
This is just what happens to cows in significant heat waves, but this year’s is the most lethal for San Joaquin Valley cows in about a decade. In 2006, valley farmers reported around $300 million in losses because of the heat, “In the dairy business, you just have to take what Mother Nature gives you,” Van Exel told CBS 13. “That’s just farming.”
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