Heifers for South Dakota
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Four months after the Atlas blizzard, Heifers for South Dakota continues their work of getting quality cattle back in the hands of those who suffered the greatest livestock-related losses due to the storm. Thus far 93 recipients have received 887 head of bred cattle donated from producers in 17 states across the country.
The program is headed by young ranchers Ty and Rosalie Linger of Miles City, Mont., and has become a true showcase of the giving spirit found within and beyond the American agriculture community, garnering support from individuals and entities around the world.
“We have received monetary donations from every state in the U.S, as well as Great Britain, France and Australia. We have 887 head donated, 185 head still in the feedlot, and with the additional cattle we will buy with our monetary donations we will be over 1,050 head. Our goal all along, even when we thought it was wishful thinking, was 1,000 head, and were going to make it. That’s tremendous,” stated Linger of the success and resulting impact the group has had.
The stories told throughout the process remain one of the most memorable aspects. From recipients telling the Lingers the cattle they received kept them in business to the anonymous individual who singularly provided 48 head, the work being done on both ends of the program is inspiring.
Among the more recent stories is that of a group of Virginia producers who have decided to help by sending a full load of bred cattle west to help their fellow cattlemen.
“My dad can remember back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when we had a dry spell, and the folks out west would put hay on a rail car and ship it east. Back in 1977 we had a really bad drought, and hay was shipped in here from out west again. Truckload after truckload of hay, sent in a bad time. This is our way to give back when we have been blessed with record high cattle prices and $8 dollar corn in our area,” began Virginia farmer and rancher Lynn Koontz of what caused him to spearhead the local effort to donate between 30 and 40 head – as many as will fit loosely on a load, and send them west.
Upon arrival, the cattle will become the farthest traveling livestock donations to the cause, racking up 1,600-plus miles on their journey to new western homes.
“We hope to have them delivered by the first part of February. Right now we are working to get the donated livestock all at my place, and next week I will be taking all monetary donations to a local bred sale and buying until the truck is full, even if the last few are purchased with my own money. When those steps are complete, as soon as we get a break in our current bad weather they will be in town and on a truck within the hour,” explained Koontz.
From Virginia, the cattle will travel to Illinois and be unloaded to rest, eat and drink overnight at the Greenville Livestock Auction. From there, another truck from the west will pick them up and complete the journey.
“When we started looking for ways to help, we wanted to make sure our efforts went to somebody who really needed it. We know people lost cows and calves and money in the deal, but the most valuable resource we want to make sure we don’t lose is the young couple that just got into it. If we lose people off the operations, that’s a bigger deal than the livestock, and why we really want to help make a difference,” explained Koontz.
South Dakota NRECA (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association) Board Member Mark Hofer is another individual who recently found a way to provide significant help to his west river neighbors through the Heifers for South Dakota program.
“I got ahold of one of the YouTube videos about Atlas and what had happened to the ranchers, and played it during a lunch break at the recent national NRECA board meeting in Arlington, Virginia. The next day, during the board meeting’s time for new business, I was able to get up and make a plea to the board based on that video,” said Hofer.
He explained that rather than donate money “into a black hole” as so often is the case following tragic events, Heifers for South Dakota allowed the NRECA to know exactly how their donation would be spent. Another big pull for the organization was that no administrative costs were held out of their donation.
“I asked them for money to cover feed costs at the feedlot where they are holding cattle over the winter, which are estimated at $35,000. It went overwhelmingly great and passed. Since then we have been able to keep in touch with various board members and send them pictures of the cattle so they can see what their donation is doing,” noted Hofer.
An interesting part of asking for the donation was the unexpected educational opportunity it provided Hofer at the national board meeting. With a 47-person board from across the U.S., many sitting members are from urban areas and not knowledgeable about agriculture or why the rancher’s needed assistance.
“Some didn’t have an understanding of the cattle industry, so they had questions about why the cattle weren’t cared for differently. Explaining things to them was interesting and fun because it helped them understand what happened out here, and how they would be helping their fellow coop members,” stated Hofer.
On a personal level, Hofer said the experience was about paying forward the help he has received at various points in his life as a farmer near Spencer, S.D.
Linger said the Virginia delivery of cattle along with those being held through the winter in the feedlot are among the last the group excepts to handle, at least until next fall.
“We are thinking that we’re about to the end of our big deliveries. The livestock donations have slowed quite a bit the last few weeks. There is talk of doing some benefits over the summer, and we are also in the beginning process of putting together a few interested musicians for a benefit concert. Next fall we are prepared to kick it all off again to the degree folks show interest,” he explained.
For Ty and Rosalie, a break would be both welcome and bittersweet. The couple have headed what has turned into an incredible effort, keeping records straight to a degree that they have successfully traced all animals save 10 from donor to recipient, and Ty said he has no doubt Rosalie will find those 10 before it’s over. They moved more than 600 head in the first month and a half following the storm, scheduling trucking, completing paperwork, and making deliveries, all while also running their own ranching operation.
“It’s all worth it. When we make a delivery it really shines and all our hard work is paid off. Our goal all along has been to help people that were hurting so bad from this. To provide hope and keep them in business and we’ve been able to achieve that big time, which is wonderful,”
While the Lingers hard work, sincerity and passion for the project garner them a lot of credit, they are quick to point to the true inspiration for starting Heifers for South Dakota.
“It has never been about us. When we first started, it wasn’t for politics, praise or promotion, but because this is something we felt God had us doing. We are simply trying to be faithful servants to Him and see it through, and are just honored to be a part of his work in this,” concluded Linger. F
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