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Nebraska crisis; cattlemen flooded with no place to go

Nebraska, a land of corn and cattle is half underwater, two thirds of the state declared disaster areas and over a score of towns evacuated. The heart of Nebraska's farm county was dealt a cruel blow. Farmers and ranchers were cut off from their livestock or were unable to get them out due to the rapidly rising water and ice. Many lost all their feed, calving supplies, everything. Not knowing how they are going to care for the animals they still have. At this point producers are just trying to survive, hauling hay by boat and helicopter to marooned cattle, saving calves and treating sickness. With so much of the state still covered by water, ice chunks and bottomless mud the actually numbers of dead livestock are yet to be truly known. Some ranchers are estimating they lost at least 25 percent of their 2019 calf crop. This comes at a time when the weigh-up market is low yet producers can't afford to feed a non-producing cow. These were some of the best and most productive members of the herd, the first ones to breed back, the ones who kept their calves alive through the bitter cold only to lose them now.

Talia Goes, Communications Director for the Nebraska Cattlemen spoke of the need these ranchers will have for fencing and vet supplies, feed, tools, many lost everything. "One producer knew the water was coming so he pulled all his calves and put them in a high barn because he knew he could save them. Thankfully the flooding wasn't as bad and most of his cows survived."

"This winter has been really hard on producers. Ranchers are always preparing, they are resilient and self-sufficient but there was nothing they could do here." Goes said. "We heard that some feedlots moved their cattle, most of the others are on high enough ground that the cattle are safe from flood waters."

Tye Bloom ranches with his family near the small town of Scotia, Nebraska. They have a cow/calf operation along with a little farming. He woke up in the night to their usually dry creek a raging river, cutting them off from their cows that were calving heavy at the time. "My house had water a foot from the porch, I could see rats and mice swimming, trying to get to dry ground. We were running around boarding things up so they couldn't get in the house. My grandpa is 73 and he said he has never seen Wallace Creek flood like that."

"It was the good eight inches of snow and the gale force winds that got us. Some of the calves drowned, others were tromped in the mud. The wind and snow pushed the cows. The worst part was going out once we could get to them and picking up the dead calves. The mommas were still standing over them, licking them, trying to get them up. We lost 34 calves; five or six of them were ET (embryo transplant) bull calves, our biggest calves." Bloom said. "We had a lot of sick ones for the first few days, but haven't lost any since. It is so hard to get around now with the bridges out and roads gone. Our Rangers are the only ways we can get around now."

Bloom and his family are now forced to leave their vehicles and take a four mile ranger ride just to get home.

Leah Peterson, fifth generation farmer/rancher at Cooksley Clear Creek Far, near Weissert, Nebraska, told me her story.

"Last Wednesday morning at 6am, I woke to the sound of gentle rains hitting the steel roof of our old farm house along Clear Creek in Custer County, Nebraska.

As I scurried around to roust the kids and put them on the bus, my husband returned home from making an early run through the heifers and he wore a worried expression.

He didn't say much as he gathered his things to head down the road for a meeting with local farmers who were gathering to talk all things planting season.

As the sun rose, and I readied our toddler to head out the door to morning chores, our local weather man was cautioning us all about concerns for localized flooding. I had been more concerned about helping move the big cow herd that morning in preparation for the blizzard and 70mph winds we were expecting later that night. It wasn't until I drove across the bridge at Clear Creek at 8am, that I began to consider the idea that flooding would pose as much danger as a blizzard.

We hurriedly fed all the fat calves in the lot and then my dad, our ranch hand, and I began to plan for moving the cows to shelter out of the wind. As we set out to drive them from their usual calving grounds to the safety of a large shelter belt, I became startled under the falling rain. Small streams were beginning to appear. Everywhere. Those that were running downhill from melting snowpack moved quickly. As we approached a low spot that occasionally has standing water, I stopped in my tracks when I saw cows going through in water up to their bellies. Water that was rushing. I quickly grabbed a set of hobbles and put them on a new calf and threw him in my Polaris.

We pushed the cows through and as we approached our "safe grounds" noticed the sounds of Clear Creek. She was beginning to sound angry in the distance. The area where we shelter the cows during blizzards was also beginning to collect water that couldn't flow away because the ground remained frozen.

The feed wagon we used to tease the cows out, got stuck.

Dad bailed out and waved us in.

It was at that moment, that fear crept in.

My father, ranching along Clear Creek since 1976, was worried.

We hashed our back up plans.

We began to try and execute them.

One by one, they failed.

And the water continued to rise.

The cows were getting exhausted and so were we.

The eye of the storm passed over and we knew that we had one moment of calm to enjoy before the winds turned to the north and the sun began to set.

Worry turned to some panic.

And the water rose more.

In a final desperate attempt, we went to move the cow herd one last time before the final bridge that remained above water disappeared. By then, Clear Creek had risen to level none of us had ever seen. We were cut off from the main ranch headquarters by waters rushing high enough that we could cross by tractor only. The cattle, being exhausted, were then in shock. They would not cross the bridge. Finally, we gave up and had no choice but to send them all through the raging waters for safety in a smaller shelterbelt. By the grace of God, they all made it. And so did we.

We fenced them in and put out as much hay as we were able and retreated as darkness set in.

Nothing was left to do but pray to God almighty to see our cows through the blizzard that raged the next 24 hours.

When the winds calmed and waters began to recede we took stock of our losses. We were spared much of the heartache that our fellow Nebraskans were not. Now, almost a full week later, it's difficult to even recall all that has transpired. For as much as we are grieving and concerned, life has gone on as it always does this time of year. The appearance of new life has reminded us that hope springs eternal and that we will persevere through these times.

With the help of God and one another we will get through all of this.

Nebraska is our home and we are Nebraska Strong."

Fifth generation rancher Karina Jones and family were hit hard by a terrible hail storm in 2017 and were just getting back on their feet, when the storm hit. This is her story.

"The National Weather Service and all local news outlets give us ample warning in the days leading up to our "Bomb Cyclone". They talked about the moisture that would start as rain and switch over to snow and the category 2 Hurricane force winds that were expected. But, really, who has ever experienced a "Bomb Cyclone" in central Nebraska.

Although, extremely weary and tired from a brutally, record breaking cold February in which we calved all of our AI heifers, we prepared for the storm like we would any blizzard.  We fed everything up with extra hay. We made sure that everything had access to canyons which have always served as their shelters from the spring blizzards that have come in the years before.

As the rain began to fall the afternoon of Tuesday, March 12, we were starting to see the run off from these rolling hills and some water was beginning to go over low lying roads.  We thought we had everything tucked in pretty good to handle whatever the weather was going to hand us that night but as we laid sleepless in bed, our stomach in knots, we were starting to get a grasp that this storm was of a different beast.  I honestly feared that the windows were going to blow into our home. The force of the wind and the driving rain is something I will never forget.

As the sun rose on the morning of March 13, the rain let up, the wind was still fierce.  Our school called at 6:30 am and asked that we meet the bus at another location because they didn't think they could get down our road.  I did not want to put our girls on the bus that morning, but they both had their Science Fair presentations and they were anxious about missing that.  When my husband returned from meeting the bus, my mother's heart sank when he said, "I don't think we will be getting the girls home today.  These roads are in too bad of shape."  I call my mother in law, who lives along Highway 2 and she agreed she could get to Ansley and pick them up and keep them until our roads would be safe.

The rest of Wednesday was spent trying to feed cattle and accessing the health and safety of our February calves.  Surely, those pairs would be fine.  The were behind a cedar tree windbreak, with guard rail fence, not to mention they had an open front calf shed bedded down with fresh hay. We had done all we could.  But as the rain continued to fall on our completely frozen ground, the run became torrential; the dams had all they could hold.  We have 3 dams that hold water out of our corrals and lots.  They were all spilling over and running right through our corrals like a river.  Including the one dam that breached and like an arrow that water ran right to that open front shed.

We worked to try and divert the water around that shed but we just couldn't keep up. We kept clinging to some hope that our cows were supposed to be another week off from calving and they were out on winter range and had those canyons to go to. We were hoping they were fairing far better than our first calf heifer pairs.

The rain changed to snow in the afternoon and evening hours of March 13. They said we were only supposed to get a few inches of snow. Surely, this has to be better than the driving rain. This was the blizzard we had been preparing for!  We had a barn full of goats kidding, so my husband, Marty, and I took turns through the night going back and forth to the barn to help new baby goats nurse and such.  It was the blinding, driving blizzard conditions we were all used to.

When the sun would come up on Thursday, March 14, our dig out from snow would begin. Snow had drifted as tall as the guard rail fences and right over them. The open front calf shed was now filled with snow as it had drifted in.  At noon on this day the sustained winds in Broken Bow, NE were still be clocked at 77 mph. This was now day 3 of this extreme weather phenomenon. The winds would not subside until well into that late evening.

The sun came out Friday, March 14th and we began to grasp our reality. Snow was starting to melt and we were finding dead baby calves underneath. Our cows, unfortunately, did indeed start calving during the storm. They took refuge in those canyons which have always served as their safe birthing center. They had no way to know that those canyons would turn into raging rivers. We would start seeing the how badly our fences were washed out and dams compromised. We would start seeing the sadness in the faces of our neighbors and we didn't even have to ask. Then we would watch the news and realize that everything in Nebraska has changed and we are now a state in crisis. We are now an Ag industry in crisis.

As we continue, day by day, we are now full into the throes of calving cows. Some cows were just too stressed from what they went through. Cows that were in the prime of their life, the heart of our genetics, and optimal body condition. While we lost calves during the storm, now it is the cows we seem to be nursing after the storm. Their bodies are trying to carry a calf to full term or are lactating and that is big enough pull on a female's body. But, the stress of the storm has just been too much for some.

I think many of us are realizing this really is just the beginning, the beginning of a lot of different stresses, rebuilding, and decisions. I am seeing operators with in a 60 miles radius of us saying they are selling out. They are not going to rebuild after these losses. Ranching has been so tough the last few years. Emotionally, most of us have been running on empty. Financially, it should be no secret that working capital has been depleted the last few years. Honestly, I think I speak for all of rural America when I say that we need the whole nation behind us as farmers and ranchers because this way of life is on the brink of extinction."

The stories keep coming and are heartbreaking, the blizzard took a heavy toll on the 2019 calf crop in the western part of Nebraska and it will be some time before the flooded producers are able to access what they have left. The USDA has a Livestock Indemnity Program to provide assistance to eligible producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather. The Nebraska Farm has launched a Disaster Relief Fund and Information Exchange Portal. The relief effort includes the fund where money raised will be given to aid Nebraska farmers, ranchers and rural communities affected by the blizzard and flooding. The Portal will give access to members requesting assistance, needing information and those looking to help. To donate or apply for funds visit their website at http://www.nefb.org/disaster.

Nebraska Cattlemen has also started a relief fund where 100 percent of the donations will be distributed to Nebraska cattle producers affected by natural disasters. Donations can be made online or checks can be mailed to Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief Fund, 4611 Cattle Drive. Lincoln, NE 68521

If you would rather make donations of hay, feed, fencing materials, volunteer help, and equipment, or if you are seeking assistance, please call the Nebraska Department of Agriculture at 1-800-831-0550.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has established helpline for those needing counseling and information. Nebraska Family Helpline 1-800-866-8660 and Nebraska Rural Response Hotline 1-800-464-0258.

The Ag industry has been hit hard but rural America is coming to our aid. Semi loads of hay are arriving for displaced livestock, as well as donations of supplies, helping hands and a shoulder to cry on. Recovery will take years, but no one has to do it alone.

A hero in a green tractor: James Wilke loses his life trying to save another

James Wilke was the epitome of a kind, giving, Godly person, so much so that he left this earth in an effort to help his fellow man. The 50-year-old farmer from Columbus, Nebraska, about 90 miles west of Omaha, answered a call March 14 to rescue a motorist stranded in swelling floodwaters in Platte County, Nebraska.

It would be the last time he climbed in his John Deere tractor, something he had done hundreds or perhaps thousands of times before, often with his grandson Breckin, who turned four just days after his Papa's death.

As he was crossing an overflow bridge along Monastery Road, guided by emergency responders, the structure gave way and his tractor plummeted into the water. James' body was recovered on a creek bed downstream, near his home. It was a way, family said, that James could say he is home, family friend Jodi L. Hefti wrote on Facebook Friday.

"Not all heroes wear capes or uniforms," she wrote. "I know a true hero who wore a T-shirt, blue jeans, work boots, and drove a John Deere tractor."

James' family laid him to rest Tuesday, and the basement of Christ Lutheran Church, where a TV was set up for overflow, was standing room only, a great testament to the kind of person James was, said his cousin Paul Wilke. James was an elder at the rural church.

James' and Paul's dads, brothers, farmed together their entire lives, Paul said. They lived only a mile apart and shared equipment and labor. Paul and James stepped into their fathers' roles and farmed in a similarly close fashion.

Paul will step in to help James' only son Colton in much the same way in the coming days, weeks, and months. Colton, 23, will step into his dad's boots.

"We're going help him out, and a lot of the neighbors will too," Paul said. "The cattle needed to be taken care of right away, and a lot of people pitched in. He loves to farm, he's been farming since he was old enough to sit in the tractor with his dad."

Colton has been taking the loss of his father the hardest of any family member, Paul said, but the loss of their dad is far from easy on his daughters, Julianne and Abbie. Rachel, James' amazingly strong wife, Paul said, is leaning on her tremendous faith during this trial in her life.

James was very involved in his community, including being a member of the Bismark Township Board, Nebraska Cattlemen, and Platte Valley Cattleman. He was on several committees at Lakeview High School, and active in the FFA alumni.

"James was everybody's friend. He was concerned about other people and very close to the friends and his family that meant the most to him," Paul said. "He was very involved in the church and in the community. He didn't just talk about things that needed to be better, he made stuff better."

The Wilke's cattle were spared in the flooding due to their high vantage point, and the water levels went down just as quickly as they rose, but the damage that is left behind is astounding, Paul said. While Paul lives only a mile from James' house, he has to take an eight-mile route to get there due to the damage done in between. Many of their neighbors suffered loss of livestock.

The family is grateful that their husband, dad, grandfather, and cousin is being remembered for the grand and loving person James was.

"It's unbelievable how fast the word has spread," Paul said. "Hopefully it will inspire someone to be more like James."

Successful wild horse gather sets positive tone for the future

The dust in Modoc County, California has settled and the frenzy regarding the wild horse gather on the Devil's Garden Plateau has all but died down. However, the wild horse issue is still at the forefront of Laura Snell's mind. The Modoc County Farm Advisor was often the scapegoat for negative media coverage regarding the wild horses in Modoc County, but her hard work appears to be paying off.

"Things went great in terms of the gather," said Snell. Of the 4,000 head of feral horses calling the Devil's Garden home, 932 were successfully gathered and processed by the Forest Service. With those 932 head off The Garden, Snell happily reports that plans for another gather in the fall of 2019 are in the works.

Of the 932 horses gathered, 261 of those horses stayed behind at the Double Devil Corrals in Modoc. The 261 horses that remained in Modoc were older horses, roughly half being pregnant mares. Despite their age, Snell and her colleagues saw a huge response from the public about rehoming these particular horses.

Initially, Snell faced extreme pushback regarding the proposed Sale With Limitations program which allowed horses to be sold to private parties rather than adopted. The program would make the Devil's Garden horses available for purchase for as low as one dollar per head with the stipulation that horses would not be purchased with the intent of slaughter or consumption. Despite all the backlash Snell received, including death threats and lawsuits, the Sale With Limitations program has successfully placed all but 58 head of horses from the Double Devil Corrals. "A vast majority of those horses were sold for $1 to wild horse sanctuaries," said Snell, noting she was happy to see activists stepping up to the plate.

While the Double Devil Corrals have seen huge success with horses finding permanent homes, the remaining 653 horses that were sent to the Litchfield Wild Horse Corrals have yet to be processed for adoption or purchase. With the Northern California region being hammered by winter storms, the BLM has been set back tremendously. "We haven't had a break in the weather for two solid months," said Snell.

Horses sent to Litchfield represented the much younger and viable stock from the gather, and Snell believes this is a huge opportunity for people wanting to get solid horses for such a low cost. The horses at the Litchfield corrals, once processed, will be offered for adoption three times and if not adopted they will be available for the purchase program. Snell hopes that many of these horses will be ready for the public by the end of March and substantial progress must be made by the end of June. "This (the number of horses adopted/sold from Litchfield) will have an impact on how many we can be gathered next year," she said.

Despite the setback being faced at the Litchfield corrals, the "climate" in Modoc County is improving. "Things are much better than they were a year ago," said Snell. With two permits being deemed complete non-use for cattle grazing in the Modoc National Forest due to wild horse populations, ranchers in the area have been hit hard by the lack of initiative in previous years. However, Snell was happy to report that conversations are being had between the Forest Service and local permit holders to allow cattle back onto those permits this year. With just over 900 head of horses being removed from the permits, the opportunity for cattle to once again utilize the range is becoming the light at the end of tunnel for many in Modoc County, California.

Nebraska Blizzard/Flooding Resources

Editor’s Note: we will add to this list as we gain more information. Please e-mail us at: editorial@tsln-fre.com with any resources you are aware of.

NDA has put together a list of resources available to farmers and ranchers affected by severe weather.

Hay and Forage Hotline

NDA's Hay and Forage Hotline, 402-471-4876, connects buyers with sellers of hay, pasture and other types of forage. This Hotline service is available at no cost to buyers and sellers.

Farm Service Agency (FSA) Resources

State Agency Resources

Additional Resources

BLM launches wild horse adoption incentive

Today the BLM is proud to announce the new Adoption Incentive Program! Now you can earn up to $1,000 by adopting an eligible untrained wild horse or burro from the BLM. Starting March 12, all untrained wild horses and burros up for adoption will be eligible for an incentive of up to $1,000 ($500 within 60 days of adoption and $500 at time of title eligibility). A $25 adoption fee is required.

The BLM is currently faced with an overpopulation of wild horses and burros that is threatening the health of our wild herds and the public rangelands on which they roam. At the same time, the BLM continues to care for approximately 50,000 unadopted and unsold animals every year, at considerable cost to taxpayers. Last year, more than 4,600 wild horses and burros were placed into private care – 12% more than FY2017, 54% more than FY2012 – though population growth continues to outpace private care. By offering a financial incentive for adoption, the BLM can reduce costs to taxpayers and find more good homes for animals under our care.

All facility and animal welfare requirements still apply. Find more information: blm.gov/adoption-incentive

Image text: Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Incentive Program. $500 within 60 days of the adoption date + $500 within 60 days of the title date = $1,000. Untrained animals only. Additional restrictions apply. Learn more at blm.gov/adoption-incentive.

–BLM Wild Horse and Burro program

Bombogenesis: Epic spring storm pounds Nebraska, Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado and more with wind, rain, snow

Meteorologists said it could act like a hurricane over the plains. The March 13-14 storm brought sleepless nights for many in plains and midwest states with rain, sleet, snow, wind, mud, flooding and freezing temperatures as producers are in the thick of calving.

"Bombogenesis," a popular term used by meteorologists, occurs when a midlatitude cyclone rapidly intensifies, dropping at least 24 millibars over 24 hours. A millibar measures atmospheric pressure. This can happen when a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass, such as air over warm ocean waters. The formation of this rapidly strengthening weather system is a process called bombogenesis, which creates what is known as a bomb cyclone, according to the National Weather Service. And by many accounts, the March 13-14 storm "Ulmer" qualified.

The storm delivered and then some. Snowfall was estimated at more than a foot, possible flooding and extremely high winds. In many cases the snow piled up even higher. While heavy snow fell in Wyoming, South Dakota and northwest Nebraska, much of the cornhusker state received inches of rain, preceded by a 50 degree day that melted much of the snow that was still on the ground from the previous storms. The ground is still frozen so the melting snow and rain has pooled in all the low areas, flooding towns, roads, and swelling rivers and streams. Dams and bridges are washing out and blocks of ice bigger than semi trucks are wreaking havoc.

Joe and Christi Leonard ranch north of Bassett, Nebraska and had cattle pastured along the Niobrara River. During the night of March 13th the ice went out on the river and propelled by massive amounts of runoff, huge ice blocks pushed over the banks, across the road and even trapped a bull and a cow among the chunks. "There is only about 50 feet of fence left on the east side of pasture he had them in, the ice washed it all out. I can't believe the cow and bull were still alive, they were on ground but surrounded by huge chucks of ice, I do believe God was on their side last night. Thank God it was only two head," Christi Leonard said. "One piece of ice was bigger than Joe's pickup, and knee high thick." Joe moved the cattle using a sharp shod horse.

Tyrel Licking reports that the county roads in north Lincoln and southeast Logan Counties Nebraska are impassible in many places, with water crossing them in numerous places after more than an inch and a half of rain. The extremely high wind even blew over a large creep feeder out on a pivot. Licking works for Lincoln County Feedyard in Stapleton, Nebraska. "Cattle are bunched up, tails to the wind and are almost impossible to check," he said on March 14. "The wind is horrible, gates are harder than hell to open or close." Licking said. "Not many are sick this morning but the next few days might be bad."

Mike and Lori Waldron, who ranch north of Draper, South Dakota, figure they got 16 inches or more of snow.. "We have 10 foot drifts in places. It is a really wet heavy snow." Lori said. "We have cattle trapped in a smaller pasture due to the crazy drifts. Thankfully we are not calving yet."

Scot and Jodie O'Bryan live in Belvidere, South Dakota and raise registered Longhorn cattle and Quarter horses. "They say 18 inches of snow. Our corrals are 8 to 10 foot deep all across and our barn is buried. We had to dig down to the barn door and then shovel a 8 foot path to open the door. I am exhausted." Jodie said. "We had to dig some calves out but all are alive. Our yearling colts were all ice and couldn't see, we had to knock the ice off their eyes so they could see." The O'Bryans see live animals and are thankful. "We are so blessed."

Many of the older calves were in a calf shelter which was buried under about 10 feet of snow. "That moment when your calf shelter is buried deep. You shovel and shovel and can hear some calves bawling, their mothers are going crazy. You finally get down to the opening and everything in there looks back at you and they are all alive. Made this ol' girl bawl like a baby, thank you Jesus." O'Bryan posted on Facebook.

"I was so emotionally exhausted and had prepared myself to see a bunch of dead calves. I literally collapsed and bawled. I can't explain the relief. We busted our butts through all the 30 below zero weather and saved them all and I just for sure thought they were dead." O'Bryan said.

Judd and Jamie Schomp are ranchers from Martin, South Dakota. "We were just starting to get hot and heavy calving, eight to ten calves a day. We had a good inch of rain first and I'm guessing 24 inches of snow, with 70mph winds." Judd said. "It was really something, the winds, it was just like standing next to a freight train, just roaring and screaming. This storm was way worse than the blizzard we had last April. The drifts are unbelievable, the alleys are five and a half foot panels packed solid with snow clear across. It is heavy wet stuff. We worked all day Thursday trying to move snow to water and feed cows. I'm worried if now we will be fighting pneumonia and sickness in the calves we saved."

In the Kurli (near Milesville), South Dakota, area, Deep Creek Angus owner T.J. Gabriel had just gotten to the first bunch of pairs when Tri-State Livestok News talked to him Thursday afternoon.

"I don't think any got snowed under," he said, adding that he fed and bedded the evening before to encourage the cows to stay next to the windbreak. When he checked them during the night, he found one calf shelter blown half full of snow. "I don't think I've ever seen in that bad," he said, of the blowing snow and wind. Another windbreak was buried with snow.

Gabriel is nearly done calving so he was able to put the heavies in a shed.

"You can't cuss the moisture. We've been so dry here," he said. And he's heard the stories of the flooding east and south of him. "We're thankful we aren't dealing with that." Gabriel said if the weather doesn't get much colder, he'll have a lot of bare ground in a day or two.

Kathy Fortune and her family figure their Interior, South Dakota ranch got about 17-20 inches of snow and the National Weather Service had told her the wind had gotten as high as 70 mph.

The Fortunes had newborn calves in a horse trailer, a camper and in a running pickup to keep them warm. The marked the calves with duct tape and a sharpie so they'd know which cow to return them to.

Paul and Tamara Kearns ranch between Rushville and Lakeside, Nebraska. "We got a little over an inch of rain before the wintry mix and we are figuring about 20 inches of snow. It's making it very difficult to get around. The drifts have covered some gates that we had to dig out to feed, we have lost some calves due to drifting and the water. It's really a sloppy mess." Tamara said. "My husband was checking every two hours. It has been very emotional wondering if we did everything we could have or what we could have done differently to save the ones that didn't make it."

Zach and Erin Cox ranch 27 miles northwest of Mullen, Nebraska. They are guessing they had two and a half inches of rain. Immediately following, they were hit with eight to ten inches of snow and lots of wind. Zach checked the cows with a snowmobile and was happy to report that their livestock fared very well through the storm.

Cody and Stephanie Wolf from Cozad, Nebraska are flooding. "We didn't even get an inch of rain, it's all snow melt. There is water everywhere. Highway is closed. We had to get a port-a-potty at our house because the toilet won't flush.' Cody said. "I feel bad that we don't have a dry place to get them to. (His livestock) I have never seen it this bad before."

Rod and Laura Gray of Harrison, Nebraska, said rain turning to snow was on the menu on their ranch, too. "That made it really muddy underneath, then the wind came and it started snowing really heavy." Even with zero visibility, they checked cows constantly through the storm, and brought in new calves, after working all day prior to the storm to bed calf shelteres and windbreak and move cattle out of muddy lots to dryer ground.

Not too far away, on the Wyoming side of the state line, the Kottwitz family was getting creative. The family decided to try canoeing calves across Mule Creek as they feared the creek and the Cheyenne River would close the cattle in. The mother cows followed the calves in a canoe similar to how they would follow a calf sled.

The Niobrara River was out of its banks and over their road, but Laura Gray thinks the road may still be intact when the water recedes. She worries more flooding could be in their future when the snow from "Ulmer" melts.

Paul Allen, a Bristow, Nebraska, rancher answered an early morning, March 14 phone call to learn that the Spencer dam had given way seven miles up the Niobrara River. Paul and Lana, and Paul’s son’s family escaped safely while the water came within a few feet of the main home.

Paul was able to open panels that would allow some of his cattle to escape the impending floodwaters.

“His horsetrailer and 3/4 ton pickup floated around for awhile but his buildings are still standing and his machinery is still there, some moved,” said his daughter.

All structures on Allen’s brother-in-law’s place were washed away upstream and Ken Angel remains missing.

The effects of this storm will be widespread and felt for a long while to come, especially with the warmer temperatures forecasted melting more snow. Here in central Nebraska we are thankful not to have much new snow and feel for those who have been the hardest hit.

Those needing help with flooding are encouraged to check out the Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa Flooding Alert Facebook page or connect with their local extension representative or find suggestions at: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood

Or https://flood.unl.edu/

PHOTOS: March Spring Storm in Midwest Causing Major, Ongoing Issues for Ranchers

Cattle try to find a place out of the wind and snow near Martin, SD. Photo by Jamie Schomp

Meteorologists have said it is like a hurricane over the plains. The March 13-14 storm has wreaked havoc on most of the plains and midwest states with rain, sleet, snow, wind, mud, flooding and freezing temperatures while many producers are in the thick of calving and lambing.

Boe Kottwitz rides through the creek after checking cows on the Rennard Ranch near Lusk, Wyoming. Photo by Savanna Simmons

Amanda Radke: "At our place near Mitchell, S.D., it was freezing rain all day March 13, and March 14 brought more snow, wind and white-out conditions. The real challenge is going to be in the days to come. With warmer weather expected in the 10-day forecast, my fear is when all of this snow melts, the flooding will be catastrophic for many. The timing of this storm coincides with calving season, and the conditions have made for a difficult 48 hours so far."

Cattle are ready for the sunshine. Photo by Jamie Schomp near Martin, SD
Photo by Savanna Simmons
Cauy Pennington standing on a drift behind the calving barn. Abbott Ranch, Kiowa, Colorado. Photo courtesy Pennington family

Edwin Vavra from Milligan, Neb., moving cattle out of floodwaters. The cows were moved to safety on higher ground. Edwin is the fourth generation to live on his farm which borders Turkey Creek. Edwin has lived in the same house all 76 years of his life. Photo by Beth Vavra
Near Casper, Wyoming. Photo by Jennifer DeFreece Rodgers, Barbed Wire Photography
Near Casper, Wyoming. Photo by Jennifer DeFreece Rodgers, Barbed Wire Photography
Photo by Tina Palmer
“Need bigger calf shelters! Digging calves out at Selby, SD.” Photo by Lazy TV Ranch
Near Pierre, SD. Photo by Therese Volmer
“Some of our bulls braving it at Vaad Ranch Oacoma – a lull in the wind so they came out for breakfast.” Photo by Loaun Vaad
Photo by Jamie Schomp
Photo by Jamie Schomp
Photo by Dustin Buffington


Dale Vocu with Three Mile Creek Rodeo Co. shared a video of hand-digging stock out of snow near Kyle, South Dakota. Vocu says they were able to get both animals out.

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Marvin Garrett Colt Challenge proves successful

The names "Burch" and "Gillette" are almost synonymous when speaking in terms of exciting bucking horse action. The New Years' Eve Buck n' Ball draws huge crowds, the college rodeo hosted by Gillette College every spring showcases the up-and-coming talent, and now there is a new reason to journey to the Camplex to watch the thrill of Wyoming-grown bucking horses. The Camplex hosted the first annual Marvin Garrett Colt Challenge Feb. 23.

The idea was born of four-time world champion bareback rider, Marvin Garrett, who is a native of northeastern Wyoming, like the well-known Burch Rodeo Company. Garrett noticed a trend. Stock contractors, such as Powder River Rodeo Company, were hosting colt ridings for young students to ride, with no entry fees and for scholarship money. "There's so many of these contractors that need colts bucked, I thought, 'We ought to try to put a little money in the cowboys' pocket in the college region.' That's kind of what I established. I talked to Burch and they had about eighty head of colts that needed bucked," Garrett said. At the other colt ridings, cowboys got on as many as they desired. Garrett decided to turn his event into more formal affair, with three performances and payout to the top four in each round. There were 14 bronc riders and nine bareback riders in the inaugural year, with mutton busting action during the breaks.

Kenneth Kirk Thomson (K's, for short) participated in the bronc riding over the weekend, placing second in the first round on Saturday morning, fourth in the second round on Saturday evening, with some tough luck in the third round on Sunday afternoon. The Lundbreck, Alberta native attends Casper College and is inspired by Garrett's outlook. "He won four world championships getting on everything that nowadays we don't want to," said Thomson. According to Thomson, Garrett's ability to ride the "eliminators" led to his success. "All my heroes are cowboys, all my favorite bronc riders, bareback riders, even team ropers, like Derrick Begay. I like all the guys that are cowboys about it and Marvin definitely was, so if you can do something to impress him, it really boosts your confidence," said Thomson.

Garrett has been an assistant rodeo coach at Gillette College for four years. "It just keeps me involved. I loved rodeoing and it was a great way to make a living, if you did it right, and I see so much potential in all our kids that want to do it. I just really want to help each individual with each challenge they have," he said. He started the Colt Challenge for students like Thomson in the Central Rocky Mountain Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Garrett said, "I kind of wanted to help our region out. I think it'll kind of put a little bit of an attraction on our region."

Thomson asserts that both riders and broncs are strong in the area. "We have a pretty good region of bronc riders. A lot of bronc riders like staying up north because that's where the good broncs are," he said. According to bucking horse riders, Burch colts are no exception. "They have a rep," said Thomson. "You didn't know what was coming. You talk yourself into getting on one, because you never know if the next one you get on is going to be the next Lunatic From Hell."

The Challenge is poised to grow for next year, with Garrett's ideas to expand and sponsors eager to help. He hopes to add steer riding to pair with mutton busting for the next generation, as well as a clown for more entertainment to match the projected larger crowd. "The biggest deal to me was to make an event where the college kids could win some money. I hope to get it to where they can win thousands of dollars instead of hundreds." He also plans to add a final shootout round to round out the weekend, with two or four cowboys per event competing in a head-to-head match for a bigger purse. "It's going to be one of those events that's probably going to be a big deal to the college rodeo cowboys. Every year hopefully it gets bigger and better." Garrett appreciates the support from Burch Rodeo, Hayden Ranch, Dean's Field Service and Welding, Sharp Trucking, Elite Industrial, Newcastle Motors, BHE WyoDak, Mike Fuller Law Office, Pinnacle Bank, Camp-Plex, Tin Wagon Boutique, Brad Shawver- Private, LBJ Ranch, Gillette College and Lee Isenburger.

The experience for both the Burch colts and the cowboys will make for an action-packed weekend as Marvin Garrett and his Gillette College rodeo team host the March 15-17th rodeo at the Camplex. F

Record beef exports, depressed cattle prices, what gives?

The breaking news is that 2018 U.S. beef exports hit new records. The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) wrote that 2018 beef exports "shattered the previous value record and achieved a new high for volume," and, "Export value soared to $8.33 billion, breaking the 2017 record by $1.06 billion – an increase of 15 percent."

Just a few weeks ago, the Beef Checkoff Program announced it had achieved a 15 percent increase in beef demand.

Amidst this great news, the USMEF further proclaimed, "Beef export value was also record-shattering on a per-head basis, averaging $323.14 per head of fed slaughter in 2018."

This must be tremendous news for cattle producers. After all, the entire meat lobby has worked diligently, if not exclusively, to convince every cattle producer that they need not worry about such trivial matters as enforcing antitrust laws, writing rules to implement the Packers and Stockyards Act, reforming trade policy, or restoring country-of-origin labeling (COOL). The meat lobby's tireless drumbeat has been that the only thing cattle producers want and need is more beef exports and increased beef demand.

Congratulations! You did it!

And the trophy for those that sell domestic cattle –born and raised in the United States cattle – is depressed prices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports the 2018 average 5-area fed steer price was $117.26. That's less than what cattle producers received six years ago in 2012.

Six years ago, when the average steer price was higher than in 2018, the beef export value was only $5.5 billion dollars, which was $2.8 billion less than the record $8.3 billion dollars in 2018. And, the 2012 volume of beef exports was 219,000 metric tons less than the 2018 record.

So why did cattle producers earn more money in 2012, when export value, export volume, and beef demand was much less than in 2018?

Well, look at who's capturing the lion's share of the value of live cattle. The producers' share of the retail beef dollar was 52.2 percent back in 2012. In 2018, with record exports and increased beef demand, the producers' share shrank to less than 44 percent.

Geez, someone is making windfall profits from record beef exports and increased beef demand.

If you are a producer, the important thing for you to know is that that someone ain't you!

In 2018, record exports and increased beef demand helped the multinational beef packers earn a phenomenal average gross margin of $385.20 per head for every fed cattle you, the producer, sold them. (Based on a 1,408 lb. average live steer with a 905.91 dressed weight.)

Imagine how many of your children and grandchildren would be clamoring to become U.S. cattle producers if the live cattle producer earned just half of that.

So, what about the USMEF's claim that the beef export value on a per-head basis averaged $323.14 per head of fed slaughter in 2018?

Well, the $385.20 gross margin that went to the highly concentrated beef packers took care of that. This is perhaps the most misleading of all the beef packers' and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA's) propaganda campaign designed to persuade independent cattlemen that what's good for the packer is automatically good for the producer.

All the USMEF did to arrive at its $323.14 "per head" beef export value of fed cattle slaughter was to divide the total value of exports by the number of fed cattle slaughtered in 2018. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize this is a sham. This is not a "per head" outcome. If it was, that would mean that the multinational beef packers are selling beef into the export market at a value equal to the live cattle equivalent of the beef sold.

Only an idiot would sell beef into the export market at the live cattle's equivalent price without a markup. No, those multinational beef packers sold that beef with a big markup, at least at wholesale prices and more likely at retail and higher prices. Why else would they be so fixated on export markets when 87 percent of all beef produced in U.S. packing plants is sold to American consumers?

Oh, and they conveniently omitted from their calculation that about 2 million of the fed cattle slaughtered in the U.S. were not USA cattle at all. They were cattle imported from Canada and Mexico, and many of those were imported for immediate slaughter.

It is high time that real U.S. cattle producers joined together to take back their industry. F


Winter’s Wrath: Ranchers deal with cold while helping newborns survive

With at least two more winter storms in the coming week's forecast, ranchers are bracing for the worst, but looking ahead to sunshiny days and healthy calves.

South Dakota State University's climatologist Laura Edwards said South Dakota and Nebraska should be prepared for a storm tonight (March 8) that could drop around 10 to 12 inches of snow. She expects southwest, central and eastern South Dakota, along with Nebraska to bear the brunt of this storm.

"The snow will be a little wetter than what we've seen up to this point because temperatures are supposed to be in the 20s," she said. But Edwards said the snow will still be light enough to blow. "On Sunday, as we often see with these weather patterns, the wind will come after the snow." Winds could gust 40 to 50 miles per hour, she said.

Edwards expects yet another storm in the region to settle in about Tuesday, March 12. "It looks like Nebraska, especially southern Nebraska might get more of that severe weather," she said. But she predicts a significant amount of moisture in that system that will probably drop snow on much of South Dakota as well.

An "active weather pattern" in the next 10 days looks to be holding strong over much of the Dakotas and Nebraska, while Wyoming and Montana are actually looking to be in more of a dry pattern, she said.

The longer term outlook for the middle of March looks to be cooler than average, said Edwards. "There is kind of a bullseye over South Dakota and Nebraska, so we're pretty confident that it will be colder than average for at least two more weeks and probably longer," she said.

It is tough to predict temperatures or moisture as she looks further into spring, especially past March, said Edwards.

"There are not a lot of clear signals," she said. "For the three month window of March/April/May there are equal chances of warmer or cooler than average temperatures," she said.

Battling the frigid temperatures for months at a time is nothing new to Matt Kline at Kline Simmental Ranch near Hurdsfield, North Dakota, in the central part of the state.

The family started calving heifers on Valentine's Day and their cows have been dropping calves since about Feb. 24.

"We like to get calving out of the way before we get full of mud in the spring," said Kline.

Because they sell yearling bulls in February, the family – Matt and his wife Emily, their three children and his folks Monty and Terri, like to calve early to give the bulls time to grow and mature for their customers.

February this year was brutal, and so far March hasn't been a significant improvement, but the Klines are set up to handle the weather.

"We try to put as many in the new barn as we can, it stays the warmest," said Kline, explaining that the most recent building has sunlight panels on the roof, with drip stop coating on the inside. The temperature in that barn is generally 10-20 degrees higher than outdoors, he said.

Kline said the cows are generally left in a group inside the barn to calve, and the new mothers with calves are penned up immediately. "Once they are a day old and nursing well, we move them to another barn for a couple of days, then they go outside."

Calf shelters and huts with windbreak and plenty of straw help keep the calves and cows safe when turned outside into the elements.

Jim and Robyn Goddard of Prairie City, South Dakota are calving through the chill, as well. They like to calve their heifers in March so they can focus on the cows in April.

"Every one of the heifers goes through the barn," said Jim, explaining that they are set up to calve that way, knowing how March in South Dakota can be. The cows calve in a pasture setting unless the weather is nasty, then they, too, get to see the inside of the calving barn.

The Goddards bring heifers into the barn when they are showing signs that they'll calve soon. They leave the heifers to calve on their own in the middle of the barn, then move pairs into pens as they calve. After the calf is licked off and has sucked, they will put the calf in a warming box to dry if the weather is really tough. Then the calf is reunited with it's mother and after it has nursed again, the pair usually heads outside to a pasture with a shed.

The back third of the shed in the pasture is partitioned off with a fence that allows calves but not cows to enter. The Goddards bed the calf area with straw, or on particularly nasty days and nights, they bed the entire thing.

"As soon as the weather gets nice, we run them out of the shed," Goddard said, explaining that he doesn't completely lock them out of the shed for the first few days, until they get familiar with it. But as soon as they are used to going in and out, he locks them out of it on nice days to keep it clean.

Goddard has been putting off tagging as long as possible, in an effort to keep from losing tags with frozen ears.

Kline said they often wrap calves' ears with self-sticking wrap or "vet wrap," flat down to the calf's neck, then wrap over top with duct tape. They remove the wrap after about 24 hours.

The colder than normal weather means the Klines are going through their straw quickly and have more stresses to worry about like keeping water open and keeping snow moved to make room for cattle in pens.

Goddard said the addition of a camera in the barn has helped with his workload. "Now, if I've got a heifer thinking about it, I'm not running in the barn and disturbing her every half hour. Often I can check the camera, see that she's had the calf, and leave them alone as long as she's taking care of it."

Goddard said that because his heifers always calve this time of year, he just plans on bad weather, but he has considered moving his calving date.

"More and more people are going to April and May. I'm a firm believer that if those calves never have a bad day – they don't get sick or have to deal with a storm when they are fresh – they are more likely to be healthy the rest of their lives," he said.

Kline said his family won't change their calving date.

"Healthwise, the calves are doing really well. It has been cold and miserable but I kind of prefer this to the mud," he said.

Flooding, especially in the eastern Dakotas and Nebraska will be the next concern once the weather warms up, said Edwards.

According to the National Weather Service, the areas with the greatest threat for flooding are the entire James River in South Dakota, the Big Sioux River from Brookings downstream, the Rock River below Luverne, the entire Little Sioux River and the upper Redwood River.

Additional future rain/snow and the speed of snowmelt will be the biggest factors in the severity of the flooding this spring, said the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service indicated that February did not break any records for cold temperatures, but was in the top 5 in many cases. 1936 was a much colder year, with an average February temperature of about -12 to -15F in much of North Dakota, while the 2019 average was around 0 to -4F. Still, in many places, only two or three years had colder average temperatures (including 1936) for February.