Tag Archives: livestock

The definition of disaster

Yesterday, I posted about the devastation that hit the upper Midwest. So many farmers and ranchers lost so much in the blink of an eye. People were quick to share photos and stories of heartbreak, but the questions also started pouring in.

So I’m going to attempt to answer a few, from this North Dakota farmer’s point of view. Please remember, these are my thoughts and reasons, but I’m hoping to give just a bit of insight.

It’s the Dakotas, why aren’t you ready for a blizzard?

Well, it’s pretty simple: it was the first week of October. Although snow is always a possibility, just about any month, the early snow falls are usually fast, wet and disappear. It was predicted to snow, but not even the most cynical of weatherman predicted it would hit that fast, that hard and bring with it the winds that were present.

There were 26 named winter storms across the country last year, according to The Weather Channel. There were many, many storms that hit our area throughout the winter. We don’t usually name them, and they don’t usually impact our lives too much. This was unexpected and beyond our realm of normal.

Why weren’t the cattle cared for?

This is plain not true. These cattle were being cared for in just the way that many ranchers care for their cattle. A few weeks ago, I explained on my own blog that our cattle spend a majority of their time at pasture. Which is just where most of these cattle were, out to pasture.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

You see, in my case, our pasture is located about 15 miles from our farm. The land is hilly, rolling and wouldn’t be suited for farming. Yet, it makes the perfect pasture. If a storm were to hit suddenly, and packing the punch that this one did, there is no way I could drive to the pasture, have them loaded up and brought home – and do so safely – in anything less than a day.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

OK, I get it, it was a freak storm, the cattle were on grass…but why did they die?

Good question. The storm hit fast, the snow was heavy and many suffocated under the weight of the snow, or ended up disoriented and wandered into a more dangerous area. Snow accumulates and builds in drifts, much like sand dunes. When the wind blows like it did last weekend, it creates very dangerous drifts. You can see how the cows tend to gather in this video I made a few years ago, when I went out to check them after a blizzard. If the cattle gathered like this in an area that was protected from the wind, they may have ended up buried in a snow drift.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

Here’s the one thought I would like for you to take away from all of this: In the Dakotas, we deal with these types of storms every year. It had nothing to do with lack of care or not knowing how to handle the weather. It had everything to do with timing. The fact that we handle hundreds of winter storms without a loss every year speaks volumes to the care that we provide our animals.

The ranches and farms that were impacted by this storm need our support and resources to get them back on their feet. We can all help out and do our part.

As I sit at my computer, typing this post and considering the challenges that face those to the west of me…all while in a severe thunderstorm watch…I can’t help but shake my head at the irony of it all.

A blizzard last week? Potential for tornadoes this week? Perhaps this government shutdown is even getting to Mother Nature? (Sarcasm…that’s sarcasm.)

I can tell you that the farm and ranch community will rally around their fellow farmers and ranchers and do what they can to help each other out. But the fact is, we may lose a few farms and ranches…and when our numbers drop, the effect is felt throughout the country.

The storm may have hit a small area, but we will all feel it.

Here’s another point of view from a ranch west of the storm.

Mother Nature Didn’t Shut Down

According to my calendar, we’re entering another week of government shutdowns…and it doesn’t appear as if there is an end in sight. After this weekend’s early blizzard in the upper Midwest, I have a few things that are on my mind.

Apparently Mother Nature didn’t get the memo that there was a government shutdown. In fact, Mother Nature decided to show many just who is in charge…and it was a hard lesson learned. They estimate that as many as 100,000 cattle have died from the results of the massive blizzard that took many by surprise.

Mother Nature Didn't Shut Down

Many cattle caught out in the sudden storm perished along rural highways. Photo credit: Rapid City Journal

Yes, snow in October is expected. But this was more than snow.

And where is the assistance? The websites of information that could be used to help? Oh, sorry, didn’t you hear about the furlough?

But don’t worry, while the government is shutdown, hosting its own two-year-old tantrum, claiming that no one wants to play fair, workers that aren’t guaranteed pay are pitching in to help, organizations are offering services to connect those that have lost cattle and those that have found cattle, setting up sites for information and tips on how to make sure your losses are reported.

At a time when assistance from elected officials could be felt the most, there is no one there to answer the phone.

#DearCongress: Mother Nature is not on furlough. Farmers and ranchers are not on furlough. Emergency workers are not on furlough. It’s time to do what you were elected to do…grow up and represent our country, lead us to a better future, not down a path of destruction.

On the plus side, perhaps this shutdown will lead many to decide that it is time to step out of the shadows and start becoming actively involved in our government. Remember, this is our government…not just the government.

Run for office, whether it be township, county commission, school board, state or local offices. Let your voice be heard. Write letters. Make phone calls. It is well past the time to start charting our course back on track.

We cannot go back and change the actions of the past, but we certainly can make sure that our future is a different story.

A government shutdown will not have an impact on Mother Nature. But it can unite us in a drive to finally do what we should have been doing all along…be involved.

Cattle Don’t Take Parenting Classes

When my husband and I were anxiously awaiting the birth of our eldest, we did what many in our situation do. We took a basic parenting class at our hospital. There we learned and relearned the basics of newborn care. Between overwhelming looks and nervous laughter we were shown umbilical cord care, basic needs and basic first aid. We ended the class with a tour of the facilities that left us with wide eyes and an understanding that we were really doing this. Parenthood.

Parenthood has great meaning to us as humans but can sometimes be different when it comes to the animals on our farms. To us it means constant love, attention and care. We have a strong desire to see our children grow up healthy and nourished. As we raise our children from infants, we make sure they get the medical attention they need when they need it. 

Cattle Don't Take Parenting Classes - Photo 1With farm animals, and in our case cattle, this can sometimes be difficult. You see, cows don’t take parenting classes. They don’t have lactation specialists they can turn to when their calves won’t nurse. They don’t go to high tech medical facilities to deliver their babies. It is our job as caregivers to make sure everything goes as planned.

Farmers and ranchers will check on their cattle on a daily, twice daily and sometimes even more frequent basis to make sure that they are okay. When a cow has recently had a calf, it is reassuring to see them be protective of their baby, nuzzle and smell them. Sometimes, however, things don’t work out right. A cow may not be giving enough milk for her calf, and we have to supplement with a bottle. A calf may be sick, and we have to bring it in to give it the medicine it needs to survive. It is our job to give the calves the vaccines and boosters they need to remain healthy.

Cattle Don't Take Parenting Classes - Photo 2Cows don’t take their calves in for two-month check ups, so we as farmers and ranchers have to make sure that everything is okay. This is part of our job, part of who we are and what we do. We take it very seriously and can be very upset, hurt and defensive when it has been suggested that we don’t put our animal’s welfare before our own. (If you don’t believe me, ask my son. The cows get checked and fed before Christmas presents are opened at our house!) Animal husbandry and welfare are extremely important to those of us whose life and family are built around the raising and care of animals.