Diary of an April Blizzard
for Tri-State Livestock News
April 12-13, 2022
Forecast: National Weather Service is predicting a significant winter storm to hit North and South Dakota and surrounding states on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. It’s a prediction that ranchers dread, yet after 2021 severe drought conditions most of us would be glad to see a foot of snow to get this year’s grass growing, replenish soil moisture, and fill the stock dams. Bring it on.
Monday, April 11, 2022
At home: move saddle horses to south pasture. Move Doc and his mares to the lot with windbreak. Move panels into the barn. Pen the bottle calves. Prepare to move pairs into the west lot. Unload bales so Ben can haul another load. Attempt to lead pairs in with a bale…
At Mom’s: Move yearling heifers and young fillies together. Set out bales to last them a week. Move panels so cows can access the North Barn from the north corral. Set panels up in the barn to keep cows away from stored equipment. Move water tanks and hoses, reset floats.
Gather everything out of the calving pasture. Leave back pairs as we can. Too many new ones to get tagged today. Sort off bulls and several more older pairs after we bring them in. Lock the drop bunch in the corral. Lock pairs back out in the pasture and put out hay for them. Check gates and let the broodmares back onto the fields with tree rows so they have protection. Grab feed and hydraulic oil at Runnings on the way home.
Worry is not far from the back of my mind. I am choosing to be thankful.
Thankful for all of the trees that my father and my grandfather planted. Thankful for all of the hours I spent hoeing the long rows and running the weed badger to help them get a good start. Thankful for my sister’s willingness to watch the cattle at Mom’s. Thankful that Ben is getting hay hauled and setting the calf shelters right side up again.
Memories of the April blizzard of 1997 kept flitting through my head. That day we were trying to gather everything in blizzard conditions. Today while we put out hay and sorted pairs the sun shone brightly. Only a whisper of a raw, chill, northeast wind and the ring that showed around the moon while we drove home warned that the pleasant spring weather was about to change dramatically.
Photos by Ruth Wiechmann.
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
My alarm clock jerks me out of a deep sleep. I crawl out of bed to check the heifers, dress groggily and grab a flashlight. The ground is damp when I duck out the door into a steady pelting of soft, heavy snowflakes. I spot a calving heifer and I put her in the barn. A quick look through the cows and pairs in the west lot showed that they were content despite the snow and steady wind. The calf shelters Ben had righted Monday afternoon and the portable windbreak panels set with them in an arc were well bedded with straw. It looked great.
“Let it snow,” I thought. I went in the house and took off my first pair of wet gloves and crawled back into bed.
Back out to the barn just moments after the 698 heifer had her calf. Sprinkle of Orphan No More powder before she got up and started licking him. Heifers that calve by themselves and mother their babies are a delight to behold. I left the barn after enjoying the sight for a few minutes and walked through the cows in the west lot.
The wind is driving sideways from the northeast, now, and the snow coming thick and with a bite to it. Definitely the beginning of a blizzard. Number 617 has a fresh calf in the wrong corner…. He was on his feet, but with the snow coming down and the wind howling he would likely chill down before he could nurse especially since his mother was being pretty lackadaisical in her attentions. I started walking him toward the barn. The cow stayed at my elbow—-about a third of the distance to the barn. Shoot. I had a hard time seeing where I was going but we were close to the fence and we made it, baby toddling along all the way. I stuck him in a pen in the barn. I made a brief attempt to get the cow in, but one person in the dark is no match for a cow that’s convinced she needs to be elsewhere. I go to the house and mix up a little powdered colostrum so he’ll have something in his belly until daylight comes and we can deal with his mother.
Second pair of wet gloves. First pair of wet jeans and longjohns. Crawled back into bed at 5 a.m. I contemplate applying for a job I spotted on a local help wanted board as I drift back to sleep.
My phone ringing brought me out of sleep and out of bed. It was Ben, checking on things. He’s helping a neighbor calve too, but said he’d be down to help feed when he got done there. While we were talking, the power went out.
Put on all the layers: longjohns, wool socks, wool pants over my jeans, t-shirt, flannel shirt, sweatshirt, coat. Walk through the cows again. By now the wind has driven most of them away from the windbreak and calf shelters. Calves going through the fence and drifting away. I started the tractor and grabbed a couple of bales, told the girls I’d need their help with the straying calves, and started pushing them back through the fence toward their mothers. Two calves had already gone around the hill to where the saddle horses were hunkered down in their sheltered spot. Out of the corner of my eye I see a mare put her nose down and gently herd them both back up the hill toward me, but they scooted back on her. One by one I grab calves and guide them back to where they belong.
With everyone back to mama, the girls and I holler and wave our arms to get the cows going. They can’t stay in this corner of the lot where the full brunt of the wind is beating on them. The wind is whipping our faces and the snow stings. It’s hard to look where we’re going as we move into its force. We herd the cattle over to the windbreak but it’s fast becoming obvious they aren’t content there. I make a quick decision and we keep pushing, slowly making progress driving them all into the corral where, for the time being, the wind is quieted by the barn and windbreaks.
I shut the gate.
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