Storm buries North Dakota
While cold and snow is nothing new for North Dakota cattlemen, nobody seemed to know how to prepare for the early October blizzard forecast for days in advance.
The weather predictions were far too accurate this time around, said Levi Rue of New Rockford, North Dakota..
“We prepared, all the while, thinking and hoping it was hyped up a bit. We were optimistic something would switch,” But the storm turned out to be all it was cracked up to be, and maybe more.
In his yard, which boasts trees to the north and west that stop a lot of snow, the drifts were deep – one was ten feet. But there were also bare spots on the open prairie, said Rue, estimating the snow pileup in his area at around two feet.
The driving northwest wind that persisted Thursday through Saturday was the real kicker. “I’ve never seen snow come down so sideways and accumulate like that,” he said.
Rue and his neighbors prepared their livestock and crops in a variety of different ways, each doing what best fit his or her situation.
“Some people did move cattle to get them in places they were protected,” he said, but even moving cattle pre-storm was hard for those who have to haul them home because of the significant fall rains making any off-road travel for semi trucks nearly impossible.
“As a whole I would say very few people have weaned, and very few people had their cattle brought to fall or winter pastures,” he said. He explained that, in addition to travel challenges, pastures are still in good condition due to the good moisture, so farmers and ranchers want to utilize their summer pastures as long as they can. Plus many producers have been unable to haul manure out of lots because of the excess moisture, which forces them to hold off on weaning calves.
Those cattle that were brought home to lots or maybe weaned shortly before the storm may have had a more difficult time than the cattle out in the open, Rue believes. The mud and drifts in lots probably caused some death loss, he said, adding that he heard of death loss in cattle in pastures, as well.
He hasn’t heard of any crippling losses to any one producer whose cattle were out in the open, he said. “There may have a cow or two that wandered into a snowbank and died of exhaustion or suffocation. I don’t know.” Rue also heard of a rancher who found two live and healthy newborn calves that had been born in the storm.
“For the most part if they could get out of the wind and stay out of the mud, they did ok.”
Plenty of cattle wandered, however, mostly to the southeast. Rue told of a few cows that took shelter on the east side of a country church. “I guess nobody else needed it that night anyway,” he said. Some of his own cows drifted to a neighbor’s yard Thursday night but were found safe and sound the following day. Most producers in that area own a large tractor or two, which came in handy getting around in snowy pastures and fields to feed and track down livestock.
To add to the stress, many crops remain unharvested, including pinto beans, soybeans grain corn and silage corn, said Rue in a year where weather challenges pile one on top of another, creating “drifts” of stress and frustration. There is nobody to blame but mother nature for the amount of crops left standing, Rue said. “It’s not for lack of try, we have just had a lot of fall moisture. The rivers are running like they do in the spring,” he said.
“The market sucks, we’ve required a lot of inputs this year, guys are struggling to get hay home and we had a hard time putting up quality hay because of some untimely rains,” he said.
While the challenges seem unending, there is always a bright spot.
There was a lot of opportunities for “neighbors helping neighbors,” he said, and pointed out that if anyone didn’t know the color, ear tag style, brand or temperament of the neighbors’ cattle before the storm, they probably do now.
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA), who oversees the state’s brand inspection program, is committed to helping reunite missing animals with their owners. In addition to its regular “missing livestock report,” the NDSA will also be compiling a “found livestock report” to help match up owners and their animals. The reports will be posted on the NDSA’s website, http://www.ndstockmen.org, and Facebook page.
To report lost or found animals, producers can call (701) 223-2522, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or post the information on the NDSA’s Facebook page. The more information producers can provide, the better, said Julie Ellingson, NDSA executive vice president. “Information such as the number, sex, age, color and breed type of animals, brands and/or other identifying marks, where the animals were seen or last seen and the owner’s or reporter’s name and phone number will be very helpful.”
The NDSA’s brand inspection team will also assist in helping identify animals.
“This has been a devastating storm for so many farm and ranch families across the state,” Ellingson said. “We continue to pray for our producers and will do all we can to help bring any missing livestock home.”
“I was really nervous that evening,” said Rue. “You can’t see across your yard, you tell yourself that your cows had good grass all summer so they should be fat and happy but you are still unsure what the outcome will be. It’s the best feeling to get out and see your cows the next morning and see that they are all or mostly all there.” Rue was pleased that by Monday many of his cows were back to grazing where the green grass was peeking through the snow.
“It showed we are true stewards of our landscape. We care about the livestock. Everyone around here took care of their animals the best they could.”
According to North Dakota’s Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, a state hay hotline is open for producers needing help.
“The Hay Hotline is still available for those needing more hay or needing hay transported,” Goehring said. “We recognize it’s been tough to put forage up and get it hauled this year.”
The Hay Hotline may be reached at 701-425-8454. A self-service Hay Hotline map is also available at http://www.nd.gov/ndda/.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News