ANAHUAC – A valiant effort to save ranchers’ livelihoods here in Southeast Texas continues despite incredible odds.
“It’s the worst storm we can ever remember,” said rancher Dan Hankamer of Hurricane Ike, which slammed the Galveston coastline and trekked through Southeast Texas bringing a deluge of saltwater on prime farm and ranchland.
“It’s hard times right now,” said Charles Copeland, an Anahuac rancher now looking to find dry pastureland for his cattle as far north as Bremond.
The day after 20-foot storm surges sent water destroying nearly all of the fences throughout Chambers and Jefferson counties, forcing some 20,000 livestock to make a desperate run for high ground, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service has been directing what could be billed as one of the largest livestock rescue efforts in state history.
Joining AgriLife Extension has been Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Independent Cattlemen’s Association, other state agencies and agriculture industry partners in an “overwhelming” show of support for Operation No Fences.
The relief effort operates from White’s Memorial Park near Anahuac, which serves as a distribution center for hay, feedstuffs, water and other supplies. As 18-wheelers continue to pour in with loads of hay, organizers disperse the rations to designated feeding points throughout the county where rescued cattle and livestock are temporarily housed. So far, more than 3,000 bales have been donated.
On Thursday, some feared the number of displaced livestock may be as high as 40,000, though the death toll is still unknown. Cattle are either stranded in tight areas, or lie dead under debris of what used to be homes, barns or other dwellings, said Dr. Monty Dozer, distribution center coordinator and AgriLife Extension Service regional program director.
So far, the water hasn’t receded enough in some marshy areas for surveillance, he said. With nothing but saltwater to drink and saltwater residue on pasture grass, livestock rescue efforts have to be quick to keep the cattle from dehydrating and ultimately dying from lack of fresh water and hay.
“Saltwater is all over the grass, and the cows can’t eat it,” Hankamer said. “It’s just a mess.”
Copeland stood up against a gate that held hundreds of cattle in a small pasture that served as a makeshift holding trap. Several hundred head more had been driven to another trap by a group of cowboys on horseback along the right-of-way of FM 562. The area quickly began to resemble a large feeding yard in the Panhandle.
Along the sides of the farm road, a few fences stood, though full of bayou drift and remains of homes that had been blown apart. Farther south, the devastation worsened. A recliner had been lifted by high wind and sat in the middle of an open pasture along with other possessions.
At the holding trap, the cattle were greeted by an 18-wheeler load of round bale hay – a load donated by a feed store operator in Damon, southwest of Houston. Who the cows belonged to was yet to be determined. The massive undertaking would begin a day later when brand inspectors with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Independent Cattlemen’s Association and others would sort them in a chute one by one, looking for brand identification.
With more than 1,800 to sort in just this one area, the process will be lengthy. Owners will then decide if they want to move the cows to another location by trailer or take them to market.
The massive job of providing hay and freshwater entered Day 4 Thursday – an effort that began the day after the storm via teleconference call by AgriLife Extension officials.
“This (relief effort) has been a Godsend,” said Tyler Fitzgerald, AgriLife Extension Service agent in Chambers County. Fitzgerald, who lost his own home to the storm, was one of the first to survey the damage late Saturday and early Sunday.
Despite losing his own home, he hasn’t let up helping lead rescue efforts for county ranchers.
“We’ve got ranchers here who already have loans out, have lost their homes, and are just trying to stay viable.”
At 3:30 a.m. Thursday with the aid of a spotlight, Fitzgerald found a group of cattle holed up south on one of the farm-to-market roads. They stood shivering in saltwater and were obviously in need of feed and freshwater. A truckload of donated hay arrived hours later, he said.
Near the Canada Ranch along FM 562, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association sign remained intact on the gate entrance across the road, though fences had been mauled by drift and blown down trees. Two miles down the road, Longhorn cows were in the road, circling and drinking fresh water from a donated water trough.
“This has just been tremendous,” Dozier said of the outpouring of generosity from Texas’ agriculture industry.
However, it’s anticipated the effects of the hurricane will not be forgotten quickly.
“One of the old timers said last night during supper, ‘they won’t be talking about (Hurricane) Carla here anymore,’” Dozier said, referencing the 1961 storm that was one of the worst to hit the Texas coastline.
To make a tax deductible cash or credit card donation to Operation No Fences, call 979-845-2604 or go to http://agrilifevents.tamu.edu and follow the prompts to No Fences Hurricane Ike Horse and Cattle Relief.
To make a donation of hay, feed, water troughs, transportation and other in-kind donations, call the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Hay Hotline at 877-429-1998 or 800-835-5832 and press zero.
Agencies providing support are Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas Department of Agriculture, Independent Cattlemen’s Association, Texas 2-1-1, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Governor’s Division of Emergency Management State Operations Center and Chambers County officials.