Ranchers power through Matthew
October 13, 2016
Hurricane Matthew surged across the U.S. last week. The storm killed hundreds of Haitians before it moved through the Bahamas, blew through the Florida and Georgia coasts, and finally landed in the Carolinas. The death toll is now up to at least 30 Americans, and in the aftermath, communities are facing severe flooding in the Carolinas and wind damage in Florida.
While pumping water, counting pairs and cleaning up the mess, ranchers recount how their operations faired in the storm.
Florida rancher Robert Adams runs cattle 20 miles inland on his family operation, Adams Ranch located in Fort Pierce, Florida. Following Hurricane Matthew's departure, he says his ranch weathered the storm pretty well.
"The Adams Ranch began in 1938, and we have been through many hurricanes," said Adams. "We have endured many floods from hurricanes. After bad hurricanes, trees fall on fences; this is a big problem of cows getting on the road and mixed up with other cattle. I guess for millions of years cattle have endured storms and hurricanes. They are pretty self-reliant and know what to do. I never heard of a cow or calf dying in a hurricane. This was one of weakest hurricanes I can remember. We only had a few down branches and not much rain. We did lose power though."
Running a ranch during hurricane season or herding cattle through swamps is certainly a different lifestyle than that of the Tri-State Livestock News' primary readership located in the heart of the U.S.; however, just like many Northern ranchers must winterize before a blizzard hits, there are steps Florida ranchers take to prepare for tropical storms.
"It's not easy to evacuate during a hurricane when you have livestock to worry about," said Laura Conaway, whose family runs Conaway Livestock in DeLeon Springs, Florida. "Just like in a blizzard, there's no way to bring all of the cattle into shelter, so you have to rely on the fact that you've built strong enough fences and have enough wind breaks for the cattle to find cover and be protected from the wind. We prepare for hurricane season by moving cattle out of pens with shade cloth and sorting them into sturdier interior pens next to buildings for protection."
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Conaway said her family's ranch did receive some damage to the shade cloth, which is used to offer cover to the calves in their lots.
"Many of our shade cloths were completely destroyed or severely damaged, but our fences stayed intact and our cattle stayed where they should be," she said. "We were very fortunate to not lose power this time, so our wells were able to continue to work through the storm."
Conaway recalls a few years back when three hurricanes hit their ranch, which is located 20 minutes from Daytona Beach, in rapid succession.
"Our family lost power for a week," she said. "When you have so many animals relying on well water, and there's no power to run the well, it was an extra struggle to run water to all of the animals. During that stretch of hurricanes, we did have some barns and building roofs receive damage, but the damage was minimal following Hurricane Matthew."
A few miles closer to the coast, Drew Trucker felt the impacts of Hurricane Matthew a little bit more. Trucker's ranch, TA Brahmans is located in Rockledge, Florida, and is just six miles off of Cocoa Beach. Trucker sent his wife and kids inland while he tended to the cattle and pumped water.
"We received 16 inches of rain in the 12 days leading up to the storm, so we were already manic trying to pump water when Matthew hit the coast," said Trucker. "Around here, there's no such thing as high ground, but we were lucky that this hurricane was more of a wind maker than a rain maker."
Trucker said Matthew was the closest hurricane to come to his ranch in his lifetime, but it wasn't as severe as some of the tropical storms that have hit his home and property.
"In a tropical storm that passed over our ranch in 2009, we received 24 inches of rain," he recalled. "We live in marsh country between two rivers, and this flood plain is like a big sponge. When it's wet, it's really wet, and when it's dry, it's really dry. Matthew definitely brought on a slew of mosquitos as big as bats, and we're seeing more snake movement as they look for dry ground. We've found three water moccasins outside our door within the last couple of days!"
Trucker said the impact on mosquitoes is hard to measure, but they certainly hurt calf performance. Additionally, the wet conditions result in poor quality grass, which is tough on the cows.
"We've had so much water that the grass has little nutrition to it," he said. "The bellies on our cows are huge because they have to eat so much grass to get enough dry matter for their needs."
Trucker's ranch sustained 75 mph winds, but a "wobble" in Matthew's storm pattern moved the 125 mph winds three miles east of the ranch.
"I think for the most part, folks came out of this hurricane okay around here, except for some trees and fences that were damaged," he said. "We had an exceptionally dry summer this year. I was feeding hay in August, and some years we don't feed hay at all. Had we not had the 16 inches of rain before Matthew hit, I probably wouldn't have had to run the pump."
With more damaging flooding in North Carolina, there's little word yet on how ranchers in that area have been impacted. However, more than 2,000 people have been rescued since the storm hit the Carolinas, while another 143,000 people have lost power, according to a Wall Street Journal report.