BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (DTN) -- An estimated 18,000 dairy cows were in a holding area for milking at Southfork Dairy Farm, in Dimmitt, Texas, on the evening of April 10, when a massive explosion and fire killed most of them and severely injured one worker in the building.
The Castro County Sheriff's Office first reported the explosion on its Facebook page around 12:30 p.m. on April 11. Their post said the person injured at the dairy had been airlifted to UMC Hospital at Lubbock and that all other workers were accounted for. Multiple emergency crews were on the scene until after 11 p.m. the night of the fire.
The estimated value of 18,000 dairy cows is being put at $35 million to $40 million. The Animal Welfare Institute, which started tracking barn fires in 2013, has reported this to be the deadliest barn fire to date.
DAIRY EXPLOSIONS RARE BUT NOT UNHEARD OF
While it is unknown exactly what caused the explosion at Southfork Dairy Farm in Dimmitt, there have been dairy explosions caused by buildup of methane in the news over the years. They seem to be rare, with the last one reported in 2014 in Germany. There, 90 cows were congregated in an enclosure, and static electricity created a spark that started a fire. In that case, some animals were injured, but no deaths were reported.
Texas fire officials are investigating the cause of the fire at Southfork. While it's too early to know what happened, possible causes being discussed include a lack of proper ventilation that allowed methane to build and/or a vacuum pump that caught fire which then spread to the insulation.
TEXAS DAIRY INDUSTRY
The state of Texas ranks fifth nationally in dairy production, according to a 2021 report from the International Dairy Foods Association. That year the economic impact of the sector was put at $50.3 billion for the state, about 3% of the gross state product. Texas exports about $486 million in dairy products each year, with about 37% going to Mexico.
In 2020, the number of dairy cows in Texas was reported at 595,000. That would mean a loss of 18,000 head is about 3% of the herd.
Today's number of dairy cows in the state is an increase of 67.6% from 50 years ago, when Texas had a dairy herd of just 355,000 head. Despite more dairy cows, and more production, the number of dairy producers has continued to drop, following a national trend.
In 1975, for example, Texas had 2,890 dairy producers, and produced about 3 billion pounds of milk. Today, there are 351 dairy producers, most located in the Panhandle, producing more than 14.9 billion pounds of dairy products (about 1.7 billion gallons of milk). Dairy products rank second behind beef cattle/calves for top Texas ag commodities.
Editor's note: Editors at DTN/Progressive Farmer will continue to follow this news and report any new information as it becomes available.
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