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.
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.”
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