Incineration: The Death of Livestock as a Result of Recent Storms

by Hannah Reinhart

In early October 2016, Hurricane Matthew made its landfall in North Carolina. James Rozier, a North Carolinian poultry farmer, had his livestock nearly wiped out by the event. This livestock was how he made a living. Similar to the aftermath of the more recent weather event, Florence, there was flooding all over the area, no transportation available, and people stranded. But the poultry James raised were entirely dependent on the delivery of feed and propane from trucks outside of the farm. James was not the only farmer operating on this delivery system. When severe storms hit, deliveries are too difficult and livestock are left at the mercy of makeshift survival techniques and time.

James turned up the heat in his poultry houses, supplied the birds with as much water as he had, and turned down the lights. He hoped that they would calm down and not want to eat. Then, he watched the storm do its damage and did only what he could--- wait. All the while, the birds were dying of starvation, freezing to death, getting violently ill, and drowning in sawdust saturated with urine and feces. Even taking all the precautions a farmer can take, James still had a huge mess on his hands. And this huge mess just happened to be what his life was being sustained by. As more devastating weather events happen in places that previously experienced moderate-temperatures, we see agriculture being destroyed in ways humans are not adequately prepared to deal with.

James was the only farmer willing to talk. The other attempted contacts lived in counties close to the coastline, but also far enough away to be considered inland because that is where the recent storms are starting to reach. No one answered those calls. If they picked up the other line, they hung the phone up immediately when the reason for calling was explained to them. No one wanted to talk about it.

As a small farmer, James only has so many choices with such a large quantity of animal carcasses. Incineration is an efficient option, but also a very problematic one-- the farmer must first have access to such a facility. And when access is granted, the issues faced with emissions from animals with such high fluid content is greater than the efficiency of the potential solution. James decided to bury his chickens in a mass grave instead, coming with its own problems. Over time, the ground will erode and the chemicals and solid waste will be loosened and released into the air and surface soil, making farming upon that land even harder for James and his family. Ultimately, there are no harmless solutions.

Many North Carolinian farmers are dependent on their livestock for income, and the lives of their animals are dependent on the delivery of feed and heat. When basic needs cannot be met due to weather, farmers lose their livelihood. James lost nearly one-quarter of his yearly income due to one extreme weather event. He since has switched to raising horses and has experienced new and critical problems from the recent storms. The weather seems to only be getting stronger and more unpredictable. If this continues, the practices of agriculture across the United States will have to change drastically.