By Sherry Bunting, adapted from Farmshine, April 20, 2018
Mother Nature giveth and she taketh away. That is certainly true right now in agriculture. May God bless our farmers and ranchers! And may we all try to understand a little more about what they do working with the land and animals to manage the lifecycles of both.
My heart hurts for the difficulties and loss, while grateful for food that knows the hand well worn, the heart so dedicated, the land so loved, the lifecycles of both land and animals so tended, that people and planet have both nourishment and roots.
Not only are dairy and beef producers dealing with low prices and below cost margins, weather factors converged last weekend to produce even more difficulty and loss.
While most ranchers would be seeing their cowherds on grass by now — just as most dairy farmers would be seeing hay fields green up with growth and be doing fieldwork, harvesting rye, planting crops, and spreading manure — agriculture throughout the nation is a good three weeks behind schedule due to winter’s unwelcome overstay.
To say folks are ready for spring is an understatement!
Late March and early April brought a series of snowfalls in the East and Midwest, but then there was the big one last weekend.
Winter Storm Xantos became Blizzard Evelyn and left quite a trail, dumping high winds, deep snow and low temperature extremes upon the April calving season of beef cow/calf operations in South Dakota and Nebraska and surrounding areas.
Then it moved into Minnesota and Wisconsin dairy territory with 2 feet of snow, accompanied by 30 to 50 mph winds, to produce 5 to 10 foot drifts that not only made dairying difficult, but created snowbanks on rooftops that collapsed many barns, especially in Northeast Wisconsin.
At the same time, worsening drought in the Southwest produced fires in multiple states, with particular ferocity in western Oklahoma where upwards of 300,000 acres have burned, homes have been evacuated, over 1500 cattle and other range livestock have been lost, and the fires are nearly contained after rains quelled over 2 weeks of burn (as of April 26).
Through it all, farmers and ranchers take care of their animals, and each other. They count not just losses, but blessings.
Post after post on social media asked for prayers for farmers and ranchers in the winter storms and the fires.
Beef producers in the blizzard’s path were busy keeping mama cows fed on the range and locating newborn calves born in the blizzard to bring them in for warming.
Dairy producers were plowing lanes and roads for milk trucks and feed equipment, and shoveling snowbanked drifts from rooftops striving to avoid barn collapses.
Meanwhile others were fighting fires and mobilizing to get temporary hay and help where needed for livestock.
A dairy in western Oklahoma, making milk soaps with milk from their Jersey herd, was beyond thankful when a semitruck, loaded with dairy quality hay, arrived to feed the cows after grasslands and stockpiled forages were burned.
A poignant story is recounted of a rancher driving his pickup into the direction of the fire that had unpredictably shifted, calling to his cattle, another going in after him to bring him to safety.
These men and women across our country continue to look out for each other and even in loss, they see blessings.
Throughout the prairies where the blizzard dumped snow on calving beef herds, ranchers gave thanks that it also brought the kind of moisture that soaks into their droughted soils and fills stock dams with much-needed water.
While the fire zones have immediate need for hay to feed surviving cattle, hay stocks across the country are becoming short due to the overstay of winter weather. This will continue as first hay cuttings in many areas from East to West are delayed by either unseasonably cold weather and excessive moisture, or by drought.
Hay is one of a number of items needed by producer-victims of the wildfires. Those interested in donating hay and fencing supplies are urged to contact coordinators at 405.496.9329, 405.397.7912 or 405.590.0106.
Like in last year’s western fires, Erin Boggs and her family are picking up orphaned and burned calves to care for them until the ranchers are ready to bring them home. Follow her at @rurallifewife on facebook and learn how to help.
As an outgrowth of last year’s devastating fires, a 501c3 charitable foundation called Ag Community Relief was set up in Michigan to respond to all kinds of relief efforts among U.S. farms and ranches.
To help pay firefighters’ bills, there’s a public facebook group with information of all the fire companies involved.
On social media posts, I often see comments about bringing cows in or leaving them out. There is no one cattle management system that will protect from every abnormal weather event, poorly timed storms and wind-fueled fires.
Farmers and ranchers plan for what can be anticipated and adapt with perseverance for what cannot. There are no guarantees, so the deal is played. Here is just a small sampling of how:
The first of the many blizzard babies saved at Wink Cattle Co., Howes, South Dakota as Dean and Joan Wink (above) worked in tandem. Dean found the newborn calves and brought them in for Joan to warm in the kitchen before returning them to their dams. The April calvings kept them busy throughout the 24 hours at the height of the blizzard with more snow falling the next week. Dean is former Speaker of the SD House and Joan was appointed by the Governor last year to the SD Board of Regents. She is a literacy, language and education professor and author rooted in the reality of ranching life as in her latest book, The Power of Story. Photos courtesy Joan Wink
In Ellwood, Nebraska, Becky Long Chaney, formerly of Thurmont, Maryland, reported her family is thanking God that the ranch’s 200-plus calves made it through the storm and that all newborns were located. The Chaney twins Rianna and Sheridan (left) helped warm calves. Photos courtesy Becky Long Chaney
Sadly, dairy barn roof collapses were reported on dozens of dairy farms in Wisconsin. In most cases, cattle were saved, but in other cases, cattle were lost. At Kinnard Farms (above) where over 1000 cows are milked, they reported incredibly strong winds with Blizzard Evelyn producing huge snow drifts building up on the roof over a milking parlor. They spent Sunday afternoon working to remove as much rooftop snowbank as possible because 5 to 10 more inches of snow were still in the forecast. Evelyn may go down as the second largest recorded snowfall in Green Bay history, and it occurred in mid-April when farms like this one would normally be turning their attention to the crop fields. Photo courtesy Kinnard Farms
Against a backdrop of snow and ice that is unusual this time of year, even for Minnesota, the family at Lingen Dairy (above), Balaton, Minnesota spent all night moving continuously drifting snow to take care of cattle, keep barn roofs free of snowbanks and help get the milk truck in – finally. The farm’s lone Jersey could be counted on to come outside and monitor the efforts. Photos courtesy Lingen Dairy
At the Benson Ranch (above) in Colton, South Dakota, they worked throughout the day and night to keep cattle fed, pay particular attention to youngstock and locate newborns in the blizzard. Photo courtesy Laura Benson
Scenes like this one (above) captured by the Englewood Kansas firefighters in one of several western Oklahoma fires, tell only a fraction of the tale of devastation these wildfires are spreading throughout cattle and range country on the heels of last year’s devastating fire season. Photo courtesy Englewood Firefighters
Here a rancher, Jason Bates, carries a calf from a burning field this week in Oklahoma. Photo posted by Megan Greer, by Debbie Bates
And then there are scenes like these involving efforts like Ag Community Relief, where farmers, truckers, lenders and ag service and supply companies work together to quickly get to the work of #haulinhope — getting emergency hay for surviving livestock, milk replacer for orphaned calves, and other supplies that are needed where they are needed in areas like the fire zones. Sometimes, rain follows along, sure hope more comes their way.