Producers recouping from spring blizzards
Three nearly back-to-back blizzards that slammed the Upper Great Plains hit herds hard and left exhausted livestock producers digging out one more time and trying to assess their losses.
The storms, which dropped record amounts of snow in some areas, definitely killed some calves and cattle, but producers were just starting to get out and determine their losses as the week drew to a close, according to a survey of Extension officials in the region. Meanwhile, a fourth smaller storm on Thursday dumped several inches of snow in parts of southwestern South Dakota.
As of late last week, Extension officials had not heard reports of catastrophic losses from the storms. In South Dakota, the Farm Service Agency headquarters in Huron also was beginning to gather information to determine the extent of losses from the blizzards. That would be a first step to determine whether a request for a disaster declaration is warranted, according to Jamie White, a public affairs specialist with the FSA office.
The first of the trio of storms hit Monday and Tuesday, March 23-24, dropping up to a foot of snow or more in places. The second storm, also a Monday-Tuesday punch, hit on March 30-31. The third big storm blew in on Friday, April 3, and didn’t let up until Sunday, April 5. That storm left snowfalls that included at least 16 inches at Martin, SD, and Beulah, WY; 15 inches at Nisland; and 13 inches in Buffalo, SD.
Rapid City, for example, had about three feet of snow total from the three storms. Five-foot drifts were common in the area.
But livestock losses were harder to measure, as of Wednesday. “I’m hearing there are losses,” said Julie Walker, beef specialist with South Dakota State University’s West River Ag Center in Rapid City. “I’m not hearing how big or small they are.”
Walker said she heard of one producer who couldn’t locate 56 yearling heifers, but they may have drifted with the storm, like many cattle did.
She said she saw inmates digging out around fences along Interstate 90 east of Rapid City, to keep more livestock from walking over the snow-covered fences.
To the west, at Sundance, WY, Crook County Extension educator Gene Gade said Wednesday that he has heard of producers losing anywhere from two to five calves. But Gade, like Walker and others, cautioned that there likely won’t be good estimates on storm losses until next week.
Gade said reports of losses were “certainly of concern but not catastrophic” – so far. It’s a definite problem, to have calves and lambs dropping into snowdrifts whipped by high winds, he said. “At the very least it’s going to increase your operating costs, with more feed, etc.”
In the Nebraska Panhandle, cattlemen lost animals for the third time when the April 3-5 blizzard hit, according to Ivan Rush, beef specialist/emeritus at the University of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff.
Rush said cattlemen he talked to were braced well for the third storm. “There are still sporadic losses around,” Rush said. But he added he didn’t have statistics on death losses from the series of storms.
When the snow started last Saturday (April 4), he said, “The calves just got caked with half an inch of snow. They were just walking snowballs.”
Rush said producers are reporting more cases of sickness, particularly scours and pneumonia.
He said the storms put stress both on livestock and ranchers. “People are a little bit wore out now. But the calves are already looking good,” he said. “They’re coming back.”
In North Dakota, where some producers battled blizzards as well as flooding, livestock losses varied widely, according to Greg Lardy, North Dakota Extension beef cattle specialist in Fargo.
“Some of them are doing pretty good,” he said. “A few areas were not as hard hit as most of the state.”
Most of North Dakota dodged the April blizzard, and are still trying to get good estimates on losses from the other blizzards, plus flooding, he said.
He said some producers suffered a lot of calf losses from the March 30-31 blizzard.
Lardy, like others, says the blizzards and now the threat of flooding, caps off a long, cold, costly winter. Much of North Dakota was parched by drought last summer, which meant poor hay stocks going into the fall and winter feeding season.
“Just physically getting cows fed every day was a challenge and continues to be a challenge for a lot of folks,” Lardy said.
North Dakotans have battled flooding along the Red, Sheyenne and Missouri rivers, as well as other streams. In many areas, “These creeks came up pretty quickly and caused problems for folks who had never seen water before,” Lardy said.
He said the blizzards appeared to hit the south central part of North Dakota the hardest.
Lardy, too, said scours and other diseases will become a concern for calves surrounded by mud and snow. “There’s just nowhere dry for them to go,” he said.
Producers along the Sheyenne River in southeast North Dakota have lost up to 50 head of cattle to flooding, according to Brian Zimprich, Ransom County Extension agent for livestock systems.
The total loss due to weather probably runs from 50 to 75 calves, Zimprich said. The Sheyenne is supposed to crest again next Tuesday, April 14, Zimprich said, “We’re really hoping this will end soon.”
That’s a common theme among the region’s rural residents, particularly those trying to keep critters alive.
In northwest South Dakota, Harding County Emergency Management Director Kathy Glines said Wednesday was the first day in three weeks that some producers had been able to make it in to Buffalo.
Even though the third storm arrived with weaker winds, Glines said, “It was just really close to the straw that broke the camel’s back. Everybody was tired. I think it just beat them down hard.”
Jerry Petik, who ranches near Meadow in northwestern South Dakota, said that during the March 30-31 storm, he spent two nights out on horseback with a big flashlight trying to get his cattle close into shelter. “It was pure hell,” he said.
Now, producers and others will be concerned with flooding, mud and disease.
Meanwhile, although the long-term forecast for the region is inconclusive, there is a slight chance of above-normal precipitation from April 11-18 for most of the region except eastern North Dakota, according to Bill Cecil, of the National Weather Service in Rapid City.