18,000 Cows Died in the “Deadliest Fire Involving Cattle We Know Of”

On Monday, 18,000 cows at South Fork Dairy in Texas were standing in holding pens waiting to be milked when a massive fire swept through. Completely confined with no hope of escape, the animals could do nothing but crowd together and bellow in terror. The death toll is so high that this may be the largest cattle-killing event ever. One farmworker was injured and, as of Tuesday, is in critical but stable condition. 

The thousands of Holstein and Jersey cows who perished in the blaze represented about 90 percent of South Fork Dairy’s massive herd. Located in the second-highest dairy-producing county in Texas, South Fork Dairy is nearly 10 times larger than a typical dairy farm in the state. Allie Granger, a policy associate at Animal Welfare Institute, stated: 

[The fire] is the deadliest fire involving cattle we know of. In the past, we have seen fires involving several hundred cows at a time, but nothing … near this level of mortality.

While malfunctioning farm equipment may have caused the explosion that led to the fire, officials are still investigating. Videos taken by witnesses show a huge plume of black smoke and capture the heartbreaking sound of cows calling out. Leah Garcés, CEO and president of Mercy For Animals, said in a statement:

The loss of life in Dimmitt, Texas, is catastrophic. Mercy For Animals mourns the 18,000 cows whose last moments of suffering are unimaginable. Our thoughts are also with the injured farmworker and their family. This tragedy is further proof that our current food system is unstable and in desperate need of reform. Industrial animal agriculture continues to harm communities, workers, and—of course—animals. We must act. All our lives depend on it.

While a tragedy of this magnitude is horrific, lethal barn fires are disturbingly common at factory farms. Just last month, a massive pig farm containing more than 10,000 pigs burned to the ground, killing every single animal trapped inside. The sheer size of the barn and swiftness of the fire meant firefighters could not stop the blaze—they could only monitor the spread as the pigs suffered and died within.

When these fires happen, companies often highlight their financial losses. The true victims—the staggering number of animals burned alive in overcrowded farms—are rarely the focus. These mass-casualty fires—and the industry’s response to them—once again demonstrate how animals trapped in the agriculture industry are treated as mere commodities. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to remove our support from this cruel industry. Download our free How to Eat Veg guide to get started today.