Documenting the number of cattle being buried may be the biggest issue facing ranchers and government agencies trying to get financial assistance for those hit hardest by the recent wildfires, a Texas Cooperative Extension official said.

Kenny Brdecko, Extension agent in Wheeler County, is one of many agents trying to work as a liaison between ranchers with losses and government agencies.

“It’s been a changing story on what needs to be done and what is being done day-to-day,” Brdecko said. “Every county will be a little different because of emergency management personnel and decisions.”

But in every county, ranchers must follow the guidelines of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, he said.

In Wheeler County, there is a team comprised of Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Animal Health and Environmental Quality officials, and Extension personnel that has been assigned to bury livestock, Brdecko said.

“We will make sure that it all gets done properly,” he said, referring to the necessary paperwork as well as the guidelines of where and how to bury animals.

The transportation department is offering equipment and manpower to dig the holes, move the cattle and bury them, while animal health and environmental quality officials make sure everything is done according to safe environmental procedures, Brdecko said.

However, some individuals are choosing to do it themselves, he said. It is important those individuals have a third party witness the burial to help document the number of dead animals.

This information, Brdecko said, is a critical best management practice that needs to be documented for income tax and any potential government financial assistance in the future. The numbers need to be documented for the county purposes, whether the individual intends to seek financial assistance in the future or not, he said.

Two of the environmental quality requirements also include gaining permission to bury and filing a deed record.

“Our county clerk developed a form they can file that will be sufficient for the record requirements for this process,” Brdecko said. “This has been approved through TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). It took what could have been a several-hundred dollar process to make it about $11, and our county has chosen to waive that fee.”

He stressed every county will be different in what they do and what forms they choose to use. The county is sharing the affidavit with the environmental commission and other counties.

The number to call for a copy of the affidavit is (806) 353-9251 or go to www.amarillo.tamu.edu and find a copy on the wildfire page link. The affidavit allows the burial site to be located by coordinates that are familiar or by global information system coordinates.

Right now the plan is to bury everything on site, with one site per ranch, Brdecko said.

For those individuals who are not seeking help with the burial process, Dr. John Sweeten, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station resident director and engineer in Amarillo had the following advice:

• Chose a location with a good slope or drainage, but not more than about 3 percent, Sweeten said. A site near the top of a ridge or hill will help avoid ponding of water in the future and avoid subsurface water flow;

• Where possible, it is best to dig to clay subsoil, but not too deep to avoid any possibility of the walls caving in on the operator as he digs; and

• Once the animals are buried, put 6 inches of clay loam soil on top and pack it, followed by some medium texture soil, and then plant something in this layer to deter erosion.

“We have a deep aquifer, but you still want a clay liner if possible in the bottom,” he said. “And if you put a clay cap on it, you won’t get leaching to the groundwater, you’ll keep the odors down and keep the varmints out of it.”

An auger on the back of the tractor can be used to tell much about the ground below, Sweeten said. Bore down 6 to 8 feet deep and see what is there when selecting a site.

Both Brdecko and Sweeten stressed it is important to call before digging to determine if there are any buried utility lines. The toll-free number for Dig Test (800) 545-6005. (Dig Test is a locator for utility lines)

Other environmental regulations ranchers need to be aware of are:

• The burial site should not be located in an area with a high water table or very permeable soils.

• The site should be at least 300 feet from the nearest drinking water well or from any creek, stream, pond, lake or river and not in a floodplain.

• The site should be at least 200 feet from adjacent property lines.

Eddie Vance, Environmental Quality section manager, said it is important that anyone planning to bury carcasses should call him in advance at (806) 468-0510 to get verbal permission. He will walk them through the notification requirements, including a letter and deed record process.

Letters will need to be sent to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Box 13087, Austin, Texas, 78711-3087.