Kansas is the third-largest cattle state in the US, behind Texas and Nebraska. But, recent heatwaves have caused massive die-offs of Kansas cattle, leaving ranches scrambling to find a solution as the heat index keeps climbing. Recently, cattle producers in the Sunflower State were forced to dump thousands of cattle carcasses at a landfill. Still, others buried their dead cattle in unlined graves.
First of all, burying cattle or dumping bodies at a landfill are not usual practices when cows die. But, according to the New York Post, so many cattle died in the June heatwave that facilities that process the carcasses into pet food or fertilizer were overwhelmed.
This extreme drought and heatwave ripping through the United States is a direct product of human-made climate change. Extreme weather and natural disasters are on the rise everywhere, with wildfires and this heatwave just the latest in a long string of unusually intense conditions. Temperatures in Kansas will only continue to rise, and cattle ranches are struggling to keep their cattle alive.
Per Kansas state records, at least 2,117 cattle perished in the extreme heat. In Southwestern Kansas on June 11, temperatures reached 100 degrees, there was no wind, and the humidity spiked. As it was still early for that kind of heat in that area, some cows hadn’t yet shed their winter coats and they overheated, according to the records.
How a Kansas Landfill Disposed of Thousands of Cattle Carcasses After Extreme Heatwave
While landfills and burials are usually the last resort for disposing of animal carcasses, this was an emergency situation. Brock Theiner, Seward County Landfill Director, explained that the landfill workers used loading equipment to flatten the carcasses, then mixed the bodies with garbage. The entire process for the staggering amount of carcasses took about three weeks.
Theiner went into detail on the process of flattening the carcasses, and I suppose when you work with garbage you develop an iron stomach. He described the process as “running a piece of equipment on top of a water bed. It moves,” just to give you an idea. In Kansas, carcasses disposed of in landfills must be covered by at least six inches of dirt or garbage each day, to deter other animals from digging around and prevent foul smells. But, because the incident was so unprecedented, the state lifted this requirement temporarily.
State officials are reportedly looking into composting dead cattle on feedlots instead of going to the landfill, according to Theiner. With the temperatures what they are, there could possibly be more dead cattle to deal with as the summer continues. According to veterinarian Tera Barnhardt, the high temperatures and humidity made the cattle feel like they were suffocating.