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Fall Cattle Journal 2020

Fair Cattle Markets

2019 Fall Cattle Journal — #NEBRASKASTRONG

Read the full issue here. Request copies by emailing jgerkin@tsln-fre.com or calling 1-800-347-9100. We may charge a small fee to cover postage and printing costs.
As editors of Tri-State Livestock News, we don’t just write about the livestock industry, we live it. While we are assigning stories and writing about saving baby calves and the stresses of the cattle market, we’re trying to save baby calves and doing our own stressful cattle market calculations. When the news is chaos and heartache in the livestock industry we’re feeling it too. And when it’s bootstraps and grassroots making news, we get to feel that pride and community along with everyone else in the livestock industry who sees disaster not as an opportunity to profit from the misfortune of our neighbors, but as an opportunity to share our good fortune with them.
The news was bleak for several months as much of Nebraska and surrounding states were doused with rain after rain on top of snow, followed by hail. We’re all too familiar with drought, have the backup plans, the trigger dates, but we don’t have plans for too much water. Most of us didn’t think that was even possible.
We’re happy to report that the water eventually subsides, but the sense of community and encouragement that was shared so readily will last a lot longer than the sense of doom.
-Maria Tibbetts, Digital & Special Sections Editor

One Day at a Time

Jenny Stortz and her husband coordinated donations and fundraisers, and personally delivered feed and supplies to Nebraska farmers affected by the flooding this spring. This is her story, in her own words. 

Farming is very personal for us as we both farm, my husband full time, myself part-time (I’m a full time nurse).  We both grew up on farms raising cattle, we look forward to planting and harvest and we both enjoy being a part of the agricultural community.  This really hit home for us.  We didn’t stop to think if this was something we should do, we started talking about what can we do, when can we do something, how can we help, where can we help.  It was almost a knee-jerk reaction…we realized they needed help and we started talking about ways in which we could help them.  We know if the tables were turned, they would be there for us.   

Sunday April 7th, 2019 

We found our way to the next stop where we met the owner of the farm on the road. Not sure he knew what to think as he saw a semi with a cargo trailer leading the small convoy of three, as most our other volunteers were headed for home. 

“I see you have some supplies for me.” he said. “How about I just load up my cows on a trailer and just give up…” he said.  

“We don’t want you to do that,” Nick replied, “that’s why we’re here.” 

These guys had lived through the “100 year flood” less than 10 years ago, just to re-live the “100 year flood” again this year. The stories and videos they shared of water rushing through fields making them look like lakes, and water rushing over roads was insane. Hard for us to imagine as we talked on that 65-degree sunny day. 
Like others we had helped that day, they were no strangers to the challenges that life brought. They did their best to hold back the emotion when we talked about the hay and supplies we brought them. They were so thankful and I’m pretty sure if one of us started crying, we all would have been crying.  
We were lucky to have been informed that their neighbor could also likely use supplies. They called him up and he came down. He sorted through and was able to take some needed items home to his cattle, too.  
After most of the sorting was through, I got my chance to go take a peek and photograph the one thing I had my eye on since I got there– the 460 Farmall. 
“You don’t want to take pictures of that old thing!” he said.  
Of course I replied, “You have no idea how much I love old tractors! Especially when they’re red!”  
One thing we agreed on, those old handles have a lot of stories to tell.  
Not only being one of the nicest couples we could have met, they fed us supper and gave us a place to stay for the night, too. While the goal was to get to bed early and have a good night’s rest, it was a late night for most. I don’t think you’d hear any complaining though, as it was filled with stories, jokes and some good conversation around their old family kitchen table. Felt like it was where we were just meant to be that night. We left that morning with bellies full of breakfast, new friends, and warm hearts knowing we had been led to the right place. 
We drove down to the neighbor’s, chatted with him, looked at his cows, of course, took advantage of them being so photogenic, maaaaybe did a little wheelin’ and dealin’… then headed on our way to the next stop.  

Monday April 8th, 2019 

This place made news as the 800+ acre farm that was completely covered under water from the overflowing Platte River. You’ll see tiny islands of cattle, the house, some buildings and trees.  
I asked if he knew it was under water before seeing it on the news. He said “I got a text message from my sister saying there’s a video of Fremont completely under water. She said, I think it’s the farm.”  
And it was.  
The stories this rancher has are unbelievable… disturbing… scary… heartbreaking.  
I first connected with this rancher Sunday morning. I called to talk to him about a hay delivery it sounded like he could use. I asked what else he thought he needed, asked about fencing supplies and vet supplies. Like everyone else, there was no astounding “yes, we need supplies.” We sent out trucks of hay on Sunday and I told him we could probably deliver some fencing supplies on Monday and he was ok with that.  
I called him Monday and asked if he was still interested. Again, not a strong yes but said he would use what we were able to supply him with. We had to drop the hay at a location off the farm on Sunday since the roads were so bad, but when I talked to him Monday he said we could probably make it to the farm, that there had been trucks in and out. If the roads were “better” when we drove on them, I could only imagine what they were like before. I came to find out later those trucks on the road he mentioned were hauling the dead livestock away from his farm.  
You know it’s serious when one of the first things you see when you pull in the driveway is a rescue airboat parked on the farm. What we didn’t realize when we got there was the extreme devastation this farmer and his family actually had going on. I walked down a mile or so of dirt road, completely shocked at how things had been destroyed. Dirt cut and carved out, trees uprooted, feed bunks thrown around, a stream of water still rolling through. “There’s about 40 bunks buried out there” he said later that night… I think I saw about 10. 
But these things were absolutely nothing compared to what we saw later. 
When we finished unloading supplies we took a quick ride around his farm. We asked him if he wanted to come. We realized later why he told us to go on without him. 
‘How many cattle do you think are out there?” I asked after we returned. 
“Probably about a thousand…” he said. 
Completely shocked, I asked “of dead cattle?!” 
“Yeah…” he answered as he started going into detail about the numbers he had and the numbers he figured he lost.  
Dead cattle scattered around like a handful of confetti that had been thrown up into the air and fallen back onto the floor… strewn across over 200 acres. Stuck along fence lines, buried in brush, shoved up against corner posts, mangled in the trees. We saw a small handful of this mess.  
It was absolutely, heartbreakingly, unreal….  
He talked with Mike about the ridge out in the pasture. As the water rose, the cattle went to the ridge. As the water continued to rise, and the current continued to strengthen, the ridge was compromised. Little by little, the ridge was taken out. And cattle dropped into the water. Swept away to their death. 
The only thing I could come to mutter while we drove through the disaster zone was “oh my God… oh my God…oh.. my… God…” There were no words we could use to describe what we were seeing.  
We had heard about it… dead cattle hanging in trees, stuck along fences or mangled in brush, dead cattle half buried in sand, acres of land completely taken over by sand… acres of land covered in sand that was 3 to 6 feet deep, covering pastures and fences. Hearing it was one thing. Seeing it… seeing it was so much of another thing.  
And this rancher had all of that… hundreds of cattle gone, many to never be found…. feet of sand over almost all of his pastures and fields. So much sand we could barely see the tops of fence posts. We could barely see the fence lines at all. So much sand it covered the wheels on the irrigation system. So. Much. Sand.  
The future for this generation farm and farmer has so many questions now. 
“I can see the river from my house, I never used to be able to… it’s kind of an eerie feeling, seeing that. Scary.” 
I asked him if he evacuated and he said yes. When asked how long he was evacuated for, “Two weeks,” he replied. “We just moved back in the house a week ago Thursday. It was really hard on the kids.” Between the roads and driveway getting washed out, it was a challenge for them to get home sooner.  
When they evacuated everyone took something to the road. 
“I led with my bulldozer to make sure there were no holes in the ground.” 
An end loader and tractor followed and last was the truck, in it, the rest of his family.  
“The water was over the hood of the truck. That’s when I got scared. We should have left sooner. There were kids in there, you know.”  
On this ranch, his fences were completely destroyed and wiped out. Miles and miles of fence that need replacing. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if it wouldn’t happen until June, as wet as it was.  
He was hoping to get some seed to plant in the lots next to his cattle, he’ll need feed after summer grazing is done. He mentioned how he was already worried about the fall coming, saying they might have to sell some cows. Their fields will never be planted this year. I’d be surprised if they’re planted next year. He’ll be buying feed or selling cows. I think his decision is already made if he gets to that point.  
His goal right now is to get the cows to pasture. They typically take them to central Nebraska to graze. He’s hoping by the second week in May they can go, if not sooner. The feed he has now has been soaked in feet of water. He’s hoping tests may show it still has some value. He’s being challenged by sick calves, often unable to keep them alive, spending time and money to treat and care for them, only to lose them in the end. Stress, change, and no mommas are hard on a newborn baby calf. Not to mention a farmer. 
And like everyone else we met, he was humbled and thankful we did what we could. Us, we felt like we didn’t do nearly enough, knowing there will be struggles and challenges, there will be unanswered questions, and that the future he is looking into is so unknown.  
“One day at a time,” he said quite often. “We’ll just take it one day at a time. We don’t have any other choice.”  

Update Sept. 9, 2019 

We STILL have funds that we are looking to use up, spending it like we did in the spring on supplies from our local stores, and delivering it to specific individuals.  Right now, we have over $10,000, which is so impressive, considering all of that was donated after we came back.  It’s been a challenge returning since my husband farms full time, and I work full time and the summer has been busy as well as into fall now.   

We are looking forward to going back, hopefully with a lot of our same crew.  It was really neat hearing their expressions of how they felt good giving like they did.  I think it was an eye-opening experience for most if not all, considering the majority hadn’t done anything like that before.  Everyone from our group got the chance to interact with one or more of the individuals we helped who went through the flooding, hearing their stories, and seeing the devastation.  It really adds to the reality of the situation and why we wanted to help.  It was an extremely busy two weeks of preparation leading up to our deliveries, but made the reward was well worth it.  

Chopped hay: Helicopters drop feed following flood

It’s a friendly act to drop in and check on your neighbor. 

It’s even kinder to drop in – literally, out of the sky – and bring hay to their stranded cattle following a massive natural disaster. 

As the flood waters started rising on March 14, 2019, the infrastructure of Nebraska – not just the dams, roads and bridges, but the heart of its sustaining industry, agriculture – began to wash away. Trapped in the aftermath were pockets of cattle that overnight became inaccessible.  

On the evening of the 14th the governor had activated the Nebraska National Guard, which performed more than 100 human rescues by air and five via ground transportation that night. As the waters remained unrelenting over the next few days, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture requested the governor to mobilize the Guard for feeding isolated livestock as well. Requests were put out to other states for additional assistance and the Minnesota National Guard answered the call, sending two aircraft and crews to assist the Cornhusker state in what became officially called Operation Prairie Hay Drop. 

Video footage from the Nebraska National Guard of the hay drop could be mistaken for the opening sounds of M.A.S.H., with the steady drum of a chopper in the background and aerial dispatch jargon filtering through the radio. But interspersed among the dialog is the sound of “Whoop! There goes one!” and a hay bale falls from the cargo hold of a CH-47 Chinook.  

This wasn’t the first time the National Guard has delivered hay following a natural disaster, but this was the first time this unit had. Starting March 20 and for the next several weeks they delivered a total of 94 round hay bales – 12 by ground and 82 by air, and 80 square hay bales – all by ground. 

“We had never tried or practiced this before,” says Major William McGreer, a full-time guardsman who piloted one of the choppers and who also grew up on a farm and ranch near Big Springs, Neb. As hay bale pounds can vary widely, McGreer said they first had to get accurate weights on their load to estimate capacity. “We ended up running out of space before we maxed out on our weight capacity,” says McGreer. Each load ended up carrying four bales. The chopper crew made every effort to land the plane and unload the bales on the ground. In some cases that wasn’t possible, resulting in the widely viewed videos of “hay bombs” delivered to appreciative cattle.  

Most of the hay was donated from out-of-state and hauled in by volunteers. The team initially worked out of a hay dispatch area at the state fairgrounds in Grand Island and then out of a second collection area near the livestock sale barn in Columbus. Like most of the accounts of volunteer responses activated following the flood, the identification and location of cattle needing fed was mostly “crowdsourced,” as Major Scott Ingalsbe, public affairs specialist for the Nebraska National Guard says.  

“The Department of Ag put a cell phone number on their site and on Facebook for the guy on the ground in Columbus dispatching hay, and we started getting addresses where people had livestock in need,” Ingalsbe says. Most of the hay drops ended up being near Columbus, Neb., and the surrounding area. 

McGreer said dropping hay bales through the air from a helicopter was interesting for sure, but the biggest reward for him was being able to help out the farmers and ranchers. “Most of us are native Nebraskans, and many of us like myself grew up on a farm or a ranch. There was just really a lot of fulfillment in being able to help out our own.” 

The operation spanned approximately two and a half weeks from the first hay drop to the last, although the missions weren’t constant. A couple locations required repeat drops as the owners were still unable to access their cattle due to destroyed infrastructure.  

Brent Wolf, a private chopper pilot and owner of Hexagon Helicopters in Elkhorn, Neb., came to the aid of some cattle, and their owners also, as a volunteer responder. “In the days after the flood hit, someone posted on Facebook that there was a couple who had been stranded in their house near Genoa, Neb., for about four days and their cattle also were without feed.  

“I thought, that’s not too far away – I can help them out,” says Wolf. 

Wolf operates a Robinson R44 chopper, which he uses to run his agronomy business doing crop spraying and aerial cover crop seeding. Wolf just happened to have the perfect tool – a large, handmade stainless steel treble hook he had constructed to try out his new tig welder. “It was just hanging on my garage wall – I hadn’t used it yet, but it looked cool.” 

Someone donated small square bales, neighbors and friends helped ratchet strap the bales together, then Wolf hooked on with a long line and the treble hook from the air.  

“We hauled 110 bales over to the island – it probably took an hour or so. There were 30 cows over there, standing at the fence wanting some of that hay we were bringing,” says Wolf. 

Wolf said the number of people and the ways the communities were pitching in to help each other was incredible. With transportation means under water, many people couldn’t get to work even if they wanted to. Despite the tragedies, Wolf said there was a great sense of camaraderie during the ordeal. 

“It was something neat to do – definitely out of the ordinary. When you get the chance to use your equipment for a good purpose, it’s a lot of fun,” says Wolf. 

McGreer noted one thing that will always stand out in his mind is the appreciation from the farm and ranch families they were helping. “At one stop we had family and neighbors show up with food … we basically had a tailgate picnic beside the Chinook helicopter as we were loading bales.”  

Because when an emergency strikes in rural America, everyone shows up with food. For the people, for the cattle and for the people feeding the cattle.  

Nebraska National Guard rescue missions by the numbers: 

  • 102 total support missions completed (both air and ground) in the entirety of the flood response, not just the hay drops 
  • 94 round hay bales transported, 12 by ground and 82 by air 
  • 80 square hay bales transported, all by ground 
  • 107 people rescued by air, 66 of which were by vertical hoist 
  • 5 people rescued by personnel on the ground 
  • 13 animals rescued 
  • 90 pallets of bottled water delivered by ground 
  • 11 pallets of medical supplies delivered by ground 
  • 1 Bobcat T770 was transported by aircraft (sling load) 
  • 1,000 sandbags delivered by ground 
  • 1,100 vertical-type sandbags delivered by air 
  • 449 total National Guard Soldiers and Airmen served on this state active duty mission, not all at once but over several weeks 

Hot Meals to Go: Nebraska charity provides hot meals for disaster victims

The bomb cyclone that swept through Nebraska in March displaced many families, tore up infrastructure, and managed to bring many communities together. Out of all the destruction, one business found the ability to bloom; Hot Meals USA. 

Hot Meals USA is a 501(c)(3) charity that provided 8,300 meals for affected families, emergency management personnel, and law enforcement and emergency medical professionals during the wake of the storms in Nebraska. The organization is based out of Kearney, Neb. but has the ability to provide meals to victims all over the country.  

The inspiration started long before the bomb cyclone hit Nebraska. The idea and need for an organization like this started in 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. Hot Meals USA founder, Dick Chochran was living just 11 miles from the devastation of the EF5 tornado when it tore through 22 miles of Joplin and surrounding communities. Chochran was able to gather some food and buddies who loaded up eight barbecue grills, 500 pounds of hamburger and nearly 500 hotdogs. When they arrived in Joplin seven hours after the tornado hit, an emergency center worker said food wasn’t needed at that time of day.  

Chochran responded, “What about the police and firemen who have been working through this all night?” 

Having forgotten about feeding those people, the woman had Chochran and his crew escorted to the command center, and within 40 minutes burgers were on the grill.  

“We spent three days feeding those firemen and policemen,” said Chochran, “They were the real heroes there, not us.” 

It was this event that led Chochran to build an organization equipped to help victims, management personnel, and emergency staff in the wake of destruction. Before getting too involved, Cochran met with the Red Cross to discuss the idea, he wasn’t sure if this was even needed in the community. Red Cross was enthusiastic, and other major players Chochran brought in said “this is exactly what we need right now.” Now, Hot Meals USA has the ability to feed 2,500 meals a day from their portable trailer, and have two more units in the works.  

“We just want to help people when they are down. We are trying to do what we already do every day,” said Chochran.  

Dickey’s BBQ Franchise owner and 30-year veteran of Schwan’s, Cochran has connections in the food industry. Hot Meals USA was the product of a desire to help people in need and seeing a need for it during large disasters. 

“People my age, 9 times out of 10 you can show up to volunteer and they will tell you to go home,” said Chochran.  

By today’s standards, you get an A+ if you are on the ground in 72 hours after a natural disaster. Chochran thought “we can do better than that.” With Chochran’s trailers, he estimates his crew can be on the ground and cooking meals within 24 hours. This is made possible by the strategic placement of his trailers.  

Right now, Chochran is running one small unit, a 24 foot trailer that can cook about 2,500 meals a day if needed. A second trailer, a medium unit is a 48-foot trailer that can cook 4-5,000 meals a day when needed. Chochran hopes to one day have large units as well, a 53 foot double decker that would have the capacity to serve 25,000 meals a day. There are plans to have a medium unit placed between Kansas City and Joplin, Missouri for quick response times. Large units will be disbursed in areas near the interstates, giving them quick access to major cities in the wake of natural disasters.  

When the units are not deployed to help communities in need, they can be used for community events, state fairs and other special events. One recent event was in Donovan, Neb. where Red Cross, United Way, FEMA and other organizations were hosting a gathering for victims of flooding. People could come to fill out the necessary paperwork or check-in on their statuses in getting relief from damage. Hot Meals USA was there to feed the victims who were attending. 

After the bomb cyclone in Nebraska, Hot Meals USA was called on to feed victims in Dannebrog, Neb. Chochran had one cooking unit at the time and they hadn’t put it to use yet, but in one evening they were able to feel 350 people. 

“These are good meals too,” said Chochran, “We fed turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, and green beans.” 

A few weeks later in Hamburg, Iowa, Hot Meals USA served 500 meals. In July they were able to provide food for the Red Cross to deliver in Kearney, Neb. totaling more than 1,100 meals. In the six months following the March bomb cyclone Hot Meals USA served 8,300 meals in 26 different locations.  

“We’re just a bunch of cooks and certified chefs who want to go out and cook food for people who have lost everything,” said Chochran.  

Hot Meals USA is still running on one trailer, with another nearly finished. Thanks to Cookies BBQ, a 48-foot trailer was donated and will be rolled out shortly. Chochran has big hopes for Hot Meals USA. Eventually he would like to have seven units in total, two medium and two large units, out in the world working. At that point, Hot Meals USA would be able to provide 13,000 meals a day. 

If you would like to volunteer with Hot Meals USA you can email HotMealsUSA@gmail.com and follow their website or Facebook Page for the latest updates.  

Through their Lens: Robyn and Larry Koelling

Ord, Nebraska 

August 12, 2019 

We’ve never seen so much rain in our whole life. 

 It didn’t stop with the bomb cyclone—it just continues.  

We keep thinking if it would straighten out, you could make plans and adjust, get things to somewhere normal. We’re on plan E and F. 

Everything’s a question.  

We continue to get a lot of rain—it’s like a waterfall. The bridges are up to the very top. So you make adjustments.  

I won’t send you the pictures of piles of dead calves. A lot of cows ended up abandoning their calves. Our neighbor had 120 bucket calves. They knew the storm was coming so they took the calves off the cows to put them in shelter. The cows wouldn’t take them back. It’s so unusual. Everything is not as it should be. 

There’s no capacity in any of the dams. Either they totally filled up or washed out. Some of them don’t even have water sometimes, and now they’re 20 feet deep. The soil has no more holding capacity; it’s totally saturated. Any rain we get runs off. There’s no place for it to go. 

It’s taking a lot longer to do things than it used to. Everybody’s in the same boat. It’s just difficult with all the rain  

We got maybe 60 percent of our fields planted altogether. We were planning on getting more corn in. Then you shift over to beans. When you didn’t get the beans in you plant the sunflowers or something. We can’t plant the forage sorghum. Now we’re at rye. If we keep on like this, we’ll be back at wheat this fall. You throw your hands up and say enough’s enough.  

We don’t have to irrigate the corn we did get in. 

It’s disheartening. We’ve never had to deal with something like this.  

You talk to the neighbors, some are really down and you try to encourage them, help them look at the good things in life. It won’t be this way forever. There are good things that can come from it.  

Financially, it’s pretty straining. Older farmers have made it through a lot of tough times, some younger ones haven’t gone through those. Younger ones who haven’t gone through that, don’t know how to get out of it. You market different. Plant something different. There are a lot of different options. Gloom and doom is all they can see. Bankers are saying they can’t go with you, mostly for the younger ones. If you made it through the ’80s it kept that generation out of trouble. You don’t expose yourself to that kind of risk if you can help it. Sometimes an expansion has taken place, and if you do that at the wrong time, it will catch you. 

There are good things, you just have to count every day. Sometimes you have to back up and not look at the big picture, but look at the smaller picture. There are little blessings that come by every day. If you look for them, you’ll see them. You have to change your focus on some things and count the little things that are positive. We’re trying to see those things, and not be overwhelmed by the bigger picture that can look pretty bleak, but concentrate on the little things that are positive and build on those. 

Kindness through devastation

Dirty laundry on the floor. Folding chairs leaned up against a tree. These threads of normalcy were welcome lifelines for the Wolfe family of Richland, Nebraska when they returned to their farm and ranch after evacuating during the flood that started March 14, 2019. 

“There was water all the way around our house, but none in the house,” said Kristi Wolfe. “The first time we got to come in the house the dirty laundry was still sitting where I’d left it. The things we left behind when we did leave that Thursday were completely normal. Outside there was nothing normal. It was a very surreal feeling to walk in the house and see everything was just fine.” 

On the banks of the Platte River the family had set up a camping spot that they shared with friends. They would grill while the kids played in the river. “There were two folding chairs leaned up against a tree. They’re still there. We have no idea why,” Wolfe said. 

Wolfe’s husband, Drew and his father had said it would never flood. “We’d had minor floods, but nothing this all-consuming.” 

The flood dropped several feet of silt on productive cornfields, burying parts of pivots. There was mud in the calving barn, bunkhouse and other outbuildings. Concrete feedbunks from the feedyard were shoved around and half-buried. 

They don’t even know where 1,000 head of cattle ended up. While a lot of them washed away entirely, plenty still had to be disposed of. And they had cattle in their fields that they’d never seen before, washed in from who knows how far up the Platte River. 

“As overwhelming as the devastation was, equally overwhelming was the love, kindness and help people shared with us,” Kristi said. “I honestly can’t say how things might have gone if it hadn’t been that way. Every time we needed something, someone showed up with what we needed. Hay, meals, fencing supplies. Things came from everywhere. People came from Arkansas, two cowboys from Louisiana came up for 11 days. People from all over helped out, plus people from Nebraska and our neighbors.” 

Every day was a new challenge, Kristi said. Things they’d taken for granted, like being able to safely drive down the road or across a field, were suddenly dangerous.  

One of Kristi’s nephews, in his early 20s, was helping gather cows and saw a calf struggling in a mud puddle. He jumped in to save the calf and went all the way under.  

The next day a friend brought her horse out to help and they went into one of those hidden puddles. She said she knew it was time to bail off when the horse’s head went under water.  

“Thankfully both of those turned out okay. There were so many things we didn’t know,” Kristi said. “Some of that sand was like quicksand.” 

Their daily routine is over now, and likely to never be the same again. “I keep saying it’s a new normal, but none of it feels normal,” Kristi said. “Things still take longer than they used to. We’re slowly getting the feedlot put back together, hoping to take some feedlot cattle this fall. Thankfully our pairs were almost ready to go out to grass. Normally we’re chopping silage by now. We’ve had more rain over the last couple days, so that puts things even further back. It’s a different process of the daily things that happen.” 

Standing in their yard looking at a landscape so foreign it might as well have been the moon, they knew they needed help, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept. “The first call we had about donated hay I knew my husband would have a very hard time,” Kristi said. “It was very hard for me. That first ‘yes’ was the absolute hardest. You cry afterwards, thinking ‘what if somebody else needs this more than we do?’ You know you’re going to struggle, but we can’t do this by ourselves. At some point you come to realize you can’t do it on your own. People were incredible.” 

A group from Michigan brought Easter baskets in April for their kids, and others. “There were so many thoughtful things,” Kristi said. A group from York, Nebraska knew it was going to be Kristi and Drew’s daughter Alyse’s eighth birthday and they got some gifts together. “There were a lot of really amazing personal things like that.” 

Wolfes have spent nearly six months getting things put back together enough to function and hopefully collect a paycheck of some sort. Their banker has been supportive through the whole ordeal. “The bank has been amazing,” Kristi said. “They’ve continually asked what they can do, how they can help.” 

The bank had funds set aside they put toward the recovery, which allowed the Wolfes to rent an extra skidloader when they needed to get a lot of things moved.  

But Kristi knows there are some difficult conversations down the road. “We haven’t had to make any definite decisions about permanent things that will need to be changed. The bank has been very good about knowing this is going to take some time to figure out.”  

The Wolfes have also gotten some help from Nebraska Farm Bureau and Nebraska Cattlemen, both organizations that helped coordinate donations.  

“It’s hard to be on the receiving end of everything we’ve been given,” Kristi said. “Prayers, supplies, meals. You can never say thank you in an adequate way. It would have been an even bigger struggle if all those people hadn’t stepped in out of the goodness of their hearts. It was overwhelming, just the feeling of love and care that people were providing us with. You hear all the bad things, but we know there’s amazing goodness, because we’ve seen it.”  

Rain, Surrender, Hope and Miracles

May 28 

Farming is the most humbling of professions. The notion that we are in charge here is quickly smashed by relentless and unwanted rain. The thing we despise in May … is exactly what we pray for in late July. 

I ache for my husband, and for all the farmers across the USA and Canada. They stand at their windows, arms crossed over their chests, watching as rain puddles in swamped fields. 

Over and over again this weekend, the farmers at church were saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

Today, out of spiritual necessity, I drove these country roads, praying for farmers everywhere. Then, when I got home, I re-read words I wrote in my book, “It’s All Under Control.” 

“Farming is putting yourself in a position to trust God. It’s a way of life in which you can’t miss the truth: God is God of the clock, God of the calendar, God of the weather, God of the to-do list. God alone knows when the rain will come, when the heat will rise, when it’s time for the seed to push up from the dark into the light. 

A lot of people have romantic notions about farm life. But hard things lie beneath the idyllic overlay… 

Scott says he has no choice but to trust God. For years, he’s gone around this farm saying, “God’s got it.” And when he says, “God’s got it,” he is talking himself into the truth. That’s a form of active trust — which is like giving yourself the gift of future faith, in advance.” 

So here we are. We are farmers: at the mercy of God, relying on the grace of God, certain of the care of God. 

Hope Miracles3

June 3 

My husband always tells me that he didn’t learn the art of surrender in a church. He learned it in a field. 

Farming is constantly putting yourself in a position to trust God. This profession requires the knowledge that God is in control, whether you are standing under blue skies or rainclouds. 

Today, my husband finally stepped into the tractor to plant. Standing here in this field, I prayed for him. And I prayed for every other farmer, and for other every spouse who stands in the shadows, asking God for His great mercy. 

This year, farmers have faced historic delays in planting due to unrelenting rains. That’s on top of an already shaky set of circumstances: low prices, rising costs, trade disputes. It’s no wonder farmers feel battered. It’s no wonder that the phones at the farm-crisis hotline won’t stop ringing. 

Some people wonder why farmers keep going, in a profession with so much risk and uncertainty. 

Farmers keep going because farming is more than a job, it’s a way of life. 

Farmers keep going because, like my husband, they are working the same fields that their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers worked. 

Farmers keep going because they feel the call and duty to take care of all that God has asked them to steward. 

Farmers keep going because, to them, dirt is more than dirt. It’s potential. It’s life. 

Out here on the farm, we live where we work, and we work where we live, and you can scarcely tell the difference, … because we carry all of this life and love and hardship, like dirt under our fingernails and in our hearts. 

So today, I pray for the farmers. For the skies above to be blue. For the ground below to be dry. For the equipment to work, and for the markets to flourish. And for every farmer with a hand upon a wheel to know that God truly is in control, and that He has called them to the field — a place where we grow more than crops, but where we also grow in faith. 

This is God’s promise: 

“The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you” (Deuteronomy 28:8). 

Home Miracles

June 4 

Today, my husband stood on the edge of a soggy cornfield when a stranger pulled onto the farm yard. The stranger wasn’t from around here. He was dressed like someone from the city, showing up in a shiny car — clean, not like the way a truck looks from driving the muddy, rutted country roads around here. 

The stranger stepped out the car door and held in his hands the most unexpected surprise: a paper bag filled with cookies, along with a note. 

“Cookies won’t make it better,” he said. “But we wanted you to know we understand what you’re going through.” 

The guy was from the city … from the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. And he had left the city for the day to drive around the countryside with cookies and notes. He had zero motive. He came only to deliver hope to farmers like my husband, who are really struggling right now. 

The note read: “We know the ag sector — this region’s number one industry — is struggling. We recognize your hard work and perseverance through one of the most difficult times the ag industry has ever seen.” 

In an instant, this stranger became our friend. Simply because he cared. Simply because he saw someone who was hurting. Simply because he understood the basic human need for community. 

You might not be a farmer, but I’ll bet you know the gift of being seen, of being heard, of feeling like someone who doesn’t even know you truly cares. Or maybe you know what it’s like to leave your comfort zone, like that man left the city, to make sure someone who is struggling feels a little bit less alone. What a priceless gift! 

We all need to know that we belong to each other — whether we are city folk, farm folk, whatever folk. No matter where people live, work … no matter what we believe … we all belong to each other. And in a hurting world, that can make all the difference. 

Hope Miracles2

June 25 

Today, I stood at the edge of this field, knelt down and snapped this photo. I wanted to capture what a miracle looks like. 

Four weeks ago, this field was a soggy mess. Like most farmers, we were kept out of the fields by unrelenting rains. The sun came, not always as hot and plentiful as we wanted, but it came just the same. 

And then, little by little, we were able to plant. Conditions weren’t ideal. Some crops were planted straight into the mud. We had to skip over whole patches of ground that won’t get planted at all this year. 

Everything is late, and growth has been spotty. 

So this is not a picture of an ideal field with ideal growth. 

But look at it there… the miracle. The crops are growing, thickening over the rows so everything is green and touching. There is something quite beautiful and hopeful about that. 

Some people say that the word “miracle” should be reserved for big things, like surviving a near-death experience. But Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” 

So I choose to call this a miracle. 

You might not be a farmer, but I am guessing you plant seeds in your own way — seeds that you hope will produce good fruit, stronger faith and everyday miracles. 

May our fields be an encouragement to you to keep planting — even if you’re dropping seeds into the mud. 

It will come in time. The field in front of you, and the seeds cupped in your hands, were intended for you, by God’s design. 

And when you do see growth, take a moment to pause at the edge of your field. Snap a picture. Say a prayer. Hold the moment close so you won’t forget the gentle bursting forth of an everyday miracle. 

Sept 4 

Every morning, I stand at the front window of our house, looking out over the gentle slope of our land. As I scan this field, I see a bald spot in the middle of the field, where crops should have been planted but weren’t. It looks like a giant wound, a reminder that, for a season, all was not well. 

My husband, Scott, is a crop farmer. And like farmers across the heartland, he was unable to plant some of his crops due to too much rain. Months later, in the middle of a field, there remains this ugly, bare spot, where nothing was allowed to grow, because we couldn’t plant the seeds. 

All of us have been in the middle of a hard but important lesson: farming is an act of faith. 

You may not be a farmer, but I’ll bet you know what it feels like to look out on what God has given you and see a wound in the fields you’ve been called to plant. 

Perhaps, for you, the inaccessible field looks like the heart of a wayward child who won’t even text you anymore. Perhaps it’s an unfulfilled dream on which someone closed a door. Perhaps you’ve tried to plant seeds in a flailing ministry or a fractured marriage, but you can’t reach the field. 

What then? 

This is what we do: We stand at the window, and we dwell in hope. That’s what the people of God do — we hope. 

It takes great courage, but we wake up each day with hope. We accept that disappointments happen, but we don’t lose hope. 

A single bit of hope is a very powerful thing. In time — if the seeds that God has placed in your hands were intended for those fields rolled out before you — they will open. 

Until then, cast your seeds where you can. Wait for the time to enter the fallow fields. But never lose the hope given to you, in the name of the One who gave you the seeds in the first place. 

Using Water to Fight Water

If you have driven through farm country during harvest season, there is a good chance you have seen the long white grain bags lying in fields like giant caterpillars. Made of 10mm polyethylene (PE) they are usually 9 or 10 feet wide and 200-300 feet long, with a grain capacity of 8,000 to over 14,000 bushels. They are a temporary on-site storage solution, saving farmers’ time and labor spent trucking the harvest to bins and are much cheaper than steel bins. The bags are a one-time use product and cost between $900 and $1,000 each. 

While the bags are designed to protect grain from moisture, the residents of Wood River, Nebraska are thankful for these bags and outside-the box-thinking. Ken Christensen of the Grand Island, Nebraska Aurora Cooperative had seen a YouTube video showing grain bags used in place of sand bags. When the massive flooding started in March, they were brainstorming options and he remembered the online video and the Aurora Cooperative donated a bag to use as a temporary dam which helped divert the flood waters. The bag was used together with traditional sand bags along highway 30 near Alda, Nebraska and diverted the water around the town. 

Unfortunately, the flooding in March was only the beginning of an extremely wet year, with much of the state already having received more than twice their normal precipitation. Early July brought yet another flooding event to Nebraska when up to 9 inches of rain fell overnight, flooding the area and swelling rivers. To save their town, volunteers created a temporary dam to hold back the Wood River from flooding the town of Wood River. Since the grain bag had been effective in March, the Aurora Cooperative donated two of the huge bags. Using a fire truck to pump water into the empty bags, they were used along Highway 30 and Cottonwood. Dirt was piled along the bags from a field. “We found out that we had to have the white side out, the black side got too hot and we had one rupture. We used a garden hose to run water over the bags to cool the plastic,” said Brian Urbom, local manager for the Cairo, Wood River and Sodtown Aurora Cooperative and paramedic/volunteer on the Wood River Fire Department. 

The Aurora Coop was established in1908 and committed to the belief that by joining together, farmers can accomplish things they cannot accomplish alone. They have a strong commitment to their communities and employees. “They have been really good to their employees during the flooding. They never questioned time off and paid for hotel rooms for those whose homes flooded. They have been very good to the volunteer fire department and organizations, like 4-H,” Urbom said. “It has been an unprecedented year, the reality of working in agriculture, whether in crops or livestock, we have to work through all the challenges and keep working for a good outcome.” 

The March flooding was mainly north of highway 30, while the July event affected those living south of the highway. The grain bag dam is still in place, with plans being made for a permanent water barrier. The farming outlook is grim with the fields beyond saturated, some of the crops were drowned out or planting was prevented completely. “Farmers are worried about the cool weather, (possibility of an) early frost and the fields not drying out. Folks who have never had water in their basements are pumping it out this year,” Urbom said. 

FEMA has helped some of the residents of Wood River. Different church organizations and groups came to help cleanup homes and offer support. “Some of the houses still have $20-50,000  worth of damage. The owners’ incomes are too high to qualify for federal assistance but they don’t have the money to repair the damage themselves,” Urbom said.  

Urbom has been a paramedic for many years, so he was one of the many who stepped forward during the March nightmare. “I was truly overwhelmed by the people who offered help. One lady with a bad back brought us coffee. People came from all over Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, it was pretty cool. 

“I rode in the airboat doing water rescues from vehicles and homes. The state patrol brought in a LAV (a light armored vehicle, which has eight wheels and is amphibious); we took it across town for a cardiac event since the ambulance couldn’t get there. For about 48 hours none of us slept, from Friday to Sunday. Friday night of the flood we had already shut down the highways, it was like 9 p.m. and this guy pulls up. He was in his 60s or 70s, from eastern Nebraska and he came to fill sandbags. On Monday a couple showed up offering assistance, they were from a town east of Lincoln that had been flooded. When they told us where they were from, we said, ‘Didn’t it flood?’ ‘Our house is gone; we didn’t know what else to do,’ they said.”  

Stuck in the Mud: Ongoing effects make recovery difficult

Gene Dubas, Fullerton, Nebraska, was born into a dairy farming family, and after the dairy was sold when he was in sixth grade, he continued to be involved in the livestock industry. “I knew I liked livestock at an early age. I ran some cows, worked for neighbors, the local vet and salebarns,” says Dubas, “We always had something to do. When I got out of school I continued to work for other people.”
It was while working for other people in 1993 that he noticed a chute that was different. “It was quiet and allowed the cattle in and out of the chute easily. So, though I didn’t have enough cattle of my own to justify owning one, I bought one with the intention of renting it out and helping people work their cattle.” says Dubas.
That was the Silencer, made by Moly Manufacturing in Lorraine, Kansas. “When I took it around renting it to people to work their cattle they started noticing that their cattle worked faster and better with that chute,” says Dubas, adding, “So, I started selling them in 1994.”
“Jon Mollhagen changed the industry’s view on how to handle animals when he developed the Silencer. He was the first one to come out with the noise reduction system on hydraulic chutes,” explains Dubas. Selling the chutes in a saturated hydraulic chute market was daunting, but Dubas persevered and started educating people about the difference in the Silencer chutes. Dubas Equipment and Dubas Cattle are one and the same entity as Gene Dubas started the cattle end of the enterprise while still in high school. Now in his mid 50s, he doesn’t sell anything he hasn’t tried on his own place with his own cattle.
“I attend trade shows, conventions and fairs all over,” says Dubas. With sales all across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, plus other countries, it’s proof of one man’s belief in a product that he’s selling. By using the equipment and being a cattleman himself, he understands the value of the equipment much better than most dealers. “I take great pride in the fact that I bought one for my operation before I ever sold them.”
The Nebraska cattleman’s life, as did many others, changed with the March storms of 2019. “This whole mess actually started in the fall of 2018 though. It was a wet fall, lots of rain, then heavy rain in December. Cornstalks rotted in the fields, there was mud everywhere, then it turned cold,” says Dubas. “The condition of the cows was bad in spite of lots of feed, so when we started calving in January it was tough. The calves didn’t have any get up and go. Looking back now, the cows had used up all of their nutrients just to survive themselves.” It didn’t get any better as spring approached. “Calves were getting sick, then it got colder and stayed cold. Some froze their feet after they were several days old, in spite of shelter. It was the worst you could get,” Dubas said.
But it did get worse. Much worse. On March 17, a Sunday morning, there had been snow, melting, rain, all on top of ground that was still frozen in spots. The inevitable floods were in full force. Raging water and chunks of ice the size of vehicles were inundating southeastern South Dakota, northeastern Nebraska and northwestern Iowa.
In spite of being on higher ground, Dubas Cattle had water everywhere. “We had cows get stuck in the mud and couldn’t get out. There was nowhere to go with them, there was just water and mud everywhere.”
During one rescue operation of a bogged cow, Dubas had someone video it. He carefully pulled into the lot with a tractor and gently plucked the cow out of the mud with the loader, safely carrying her to firmer ground. The video was shared to Facebook to show the world what was happening along with the flooding in Nebraska. As of the end of August, 2019, the video had been viewed around 2.9 million times and shared thousands more. It drew attention to the situation in Nebraska like few things could.

First we’d like to give a big thank you to everyone who’s reached out and shared our thoughts on the efforts here in Nebraska. Although we are very fortunate compared to others here in central Nebraska, we are still scrambling to find solid ground, quite literally. With options and time limited, we’ve had to utilize more than unconventional methods to save cattle lives. Our motto for our little part of the world is and will remain “Whatever it takes” We are #Nebraskastrong and we will do whatever it takes to save every animal we can! To our fellow ranchers fighting right now… When you hit the wall, take a step back, breathe, and ask the lord for strength to push forward. #dubascattle #nebraska #nebraskaflood2019*** UDPATED***How can you help?This all started with a few stories both mentioned #Nebraskastrong and another mentioned “Whatever it takes” we’ve put together a fantastic t-shirt design and will be taking orders for them through an online store. They’ll sell for $20 + Shipping. Proceeds from shirts will go to to Help Central Nebraska Ranchers and the communities they do business with get back on solid ground. Every shirt you purchase will enter you to win a Peerbuilt LLC. Wire Winder Skidloader Attachment ($4500) Or a 10'x10' Deluxe Calving Pen from Vern's Mfg., Inc ($1539) These companies are the salt of the earth and jumped at the opportunity to help their customers!First run of shirts can be ordered until April 2nd!https://sungoldsports.com/product/nebraskastrong-bella-canvas-unisex-triblend-short-sleeve-teeIn addition to t-shirt purchases, independent contribution can be made To:Nance County Foundation Inc. Box 400 Fullerton, NE 68638

Posted by Dubas Equipment LLC on Sunday, March 17, 2019
This video by Dubas Cattle Company was viewed millions of times.

That same Sunday, Dubas talked to some other people and knew that folks needed help, and a lot of it. People started contacting him wanting to donate and it was very overwhelming, on top of the task of just keeping the stock alive one more day.
“People started donating stuff like calving sheds and other items. I called my friend Dan Broz at DVAuctions and he agreed to resell them on the auction to raise more money,” says Dubas. “Checks started rolling in from everywhere!”
With all that money coming in, Dubas knew he had to do something with it to make sure it was safe and could be used properly. He tried to open a bank account for it but couldn’t without a 501(c)(3) status. So, he tried the local cattlemen’s organization with the same results. Time was of the essence so attaining the correct tax status was too time consuming.
“I wanted it to go to individuals that it could help, honoring the donators wishes,” says Dubas, frustrated. “We came close to raising $40,000 and needed to get it in the hands of those who needed it immediately. So, the decision was made to divide it between the first responders within Nance County, helping to defray the expenses that fire departments and EMTs were accruing with flood rescues in the local communities.
“Some people wanted it to go to an individual, so I finally figured out a way to get it to someone in particular. I had donors write the checks to the local lumber yard. We set up an account for it and people who had to rebuild fences could get materials there.” With miles of fence destroyed and corrals washed away, that route was very beneficial.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture, in mid-April, estimated that the livestock sector in Nebraska had lost $400 million, the crop sector $440 million. No recent estimate has been made, as it’s an ongoing loss.
Dubas says, “When it’s going on, so much money comes in, everyone’s thinking about it. But now, when those calves you lost aren’t going to be sold, cows aren’t bred and you have to explain it all to your banker, now’s when it’s really hitting us. Now is the time we need to be there for each other and people outside of here have kind of forgotten.
“We’ve started preg-checking cows and there are way more opens. They’re still stressed and don’t look good. We have lots of grass but it doesn’t have anything to it. The calves that did survive aren’t thriving and are fighting respiratory problems. We have no crops to harvest and the hay either is still under water or just too wet to cut and bale,” says Dubas, adding “Our own vet expenses are running about 10 times higher than normal and though we already had to buy hay, we’ll have to buy more. We haven’t even been able to clean our corrals and lots ’cause they are still too wet.”
Dubas had his booth at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island starting the end of August. Heavy rains caused flooding there during the fair run and crowds were dramatically diminished, with parking lots under feet of water.
“I look out from my booth and I see people in ag that are just beaten down. The ag community doesn’t have the money to help each other out of this situation and it affects everybody in the whole community. I’ve done 12 shows since July and it’s been that way at every one.”
Governor Pete Ricketts visited Dubas in his booth at the state fair and they talked about his concerns for the ag sector. Dubas had found a listening ear in the governor’s office and that listening ear had connected Ricketts with Dubas. “I explained what was going on in a big area and I told him that I’m worried about the economy and mental health of the people in farming and ranching. He really listened to my concerns and I was impressed with that.
“People need to be aware of the problems we’re being faced with here. Not many people, myself included, can handle another bad winter and that’s what’s being forecast,” says Dubas. “This whole thing won’t be over for years to come, even if the weather is better. The decisions made this fall by banks and lenders will not be positive for many. Ag is already in crisis, but the storms and flooding have just made it disastrous.”
Dubas Cattle and Dubas Equipment, one and the same, are doing their best to help themselves and others, but all outside help, financially and emotionally, is certainly welcome. Those not in the areas traumatized by the flooding can think “There, but for the grace of God, go I—this time.”