Tag Archives: winter

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.

It’s Winter, Whatever Shall We Do?

What do you do in the winter? It’s January in Nebraska, we are between harvesting crops in the fall and the cows haven’t started having their calves yet. So, I guess we’ll just sleep in and go to bed early. Oh well, I guess we can dream!

This time of year we spend a lot of time caring for our animals and preparing for Spring. Our cows are on the cornstalk fields, so we are checking on them and giving them extra minerals and vitamins. Their calves from last summer are growing fast and are on split into two groups with the bigger calves being fed with the feed wagon and we are carrying buckets of corn to the smaller ones. The pigs are nice and warm in their barn that is temperature controlled like your house; it’s the best place to be on a cold winter day. One of the continuous projects this time of year is to make sure that all of the water for the animals stays thawed out so they can drink. Right now, we don’t have much snow, but when the snow blows, someone will get to spend hours in the tractor and payloader working on clearing roads to get to all of the animals.

We also clean up and put away the harvest equipment and begin to get ready to plant our crops in the Spring. There is a lot of time spent in the machine shop as we work on any broken tractors and implements and repair and maintain anything that we will need in the field. There are many hours spent in the office working on keeping farm records, we finish up the paperwork from last year and plan our budgets for this year. The record keeping that has to be done on the farm seems like it never ends.

There are also a lot of things to learn this time of year! Farmers attend meetings and conferences to learn from experts on everything from ag trade to corn hybrid selection. Farmers are required to renew a lot of licenses from pesticide applicator training so we know the specific science of how to help our crops grow to BQA and PQA programs that help us become even better animal caretakers and review what we know. We just returned from the American Farm Bureau Convention in Hawaii, I spent some time at the South Dakota Women in Blue Jeans Conference, and we will go to our Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference next weekend. That is just a small assortment of our meetings and we have had to turn down a few more because you can only do so much in January while still taking care of the farm.

What exactly do we do at these meetings? At the American Farm Bureau meeting, we competed in the Excellence in Ag contest, attended workshops about Ag Trade with Asia, Regulations, and many others, and went on some great Ag tours to learn about farming and ranching in Hawaii. While we were on tours, some of our good friends were working on setting policy that will guide our legislative projects during the next year. The discussions were about everything from the Farm Bill to the Water management! We can’t forget networking and getting new ideas from other farmers and ranchers.

When we go to the Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference next week, we get to visit with and learn from other farmers who are under 35 about how they have been successful. Quite often we get ideas that we can implement to improve our farm from these meetings.

Next time you wonder what a couple of farmers with college degrees do all winter when we are not in the field, I hope you think about us! We take care of the animals, prepare for the crop season, and seize a lot of opportunities to never stop learning!