By Marlena Hartz
Dust storms, blowing tumbleweeds and reckless drivers are normal nuisances associated with highway driving in eastern New Mexico. Now Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher says we can add one more to the list — cow carcasses.
“We have increased incidences of dead cattle being dumped on right-of-ways and highways. It’s mostly Holsteins and it’s mostly calves,” said Hatcher, who foresees the problem only worsening as the cattle and dairy industries bloom in Clovis.
Under New Mexican law, livestock owners can dispose of dead livestock by burning, burial or by contacting a removal service. Although illegal cattle dumping is not a new phenomenon, Hatcher said it is getting worse.
In response to increased complaints from residents, Hatcher has proposed that the County Commission enact a county ordinance to stiffen fines associated with illegal dumping of dead livestock. Persons caught doing so violate state statutes and face fines ranging from $500 to $1,000, but Hatcher said only an additional county ordinance would give him the means to effectively deal with the problem.
Dewayne Freeman, a New Mexico Department of Transportation patrol officer, points his finger to a somewhat unlikely source — rising fuel prices. So does Garth Merrick, owner of Clovis’ County Services, a branch of Hereford Bi-Products.
Merrick’s Texas-based company, which recently expanded to Clovis, processes livestock and removes dead livestock from properties upon request. Just last month, the company began charging $25 to pick up dead livestock — a service the company had traditionally provided free of charge.
“With fuel prices going up and up and up, we simply had to start charging,” said Merrick, whose company has picked up deceased horses, hogs, and cattle for 37 years.
Merrick said he receives requests to pick up dead livestock daily. The company’s services are utilized predominately by established cattle raisers and dairymen. Ultimately, he said, exactly how to dispose of dead livestock is a decision that falls in the hands of livestock owners.
To keep mortality problems under control at Midway Dairy of Portales, owner Tom Teune uses a pick-up service. In recent months, he said there has also been a government research incentive that offers $30 for a deceased cow. The program, however, is temporary.
Hatcher doesn’t blame rising fuel prices for the problem, nor does he think that temporary government incentives will eradicate cow dumping. He said the problem lies in a blatant disregard for the law.
“People are doing this at night — they know it is wrong,” said Hatcher, who said identifying marks, like ear tags, are often missing from carcasses.
Hatcher said smaller operations are more likely culprits than larger dairies. “These backyard cowboys go snag up 10-15 calves and try to raise them. Sometimes they succeed, but sometimes they don’t,” Hatcher said.