Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Atlas Blizzard in photos

A week ago we were dealing with the images below firsthand. Tuesday was the day of riding, searching, counting the living and tallying the dead. It was awful. One week later we are doing better. The initial emotional shock is wearing off, my husband and I are both holding colds fairly at bay and everyone is making headway toward recovering from this disaster, with full knowledge that we still have a long road ahead of us.

 One of my husband's cows that didn't make it as well as a couple calves belonging to a neighbor. Beyond them are some of the cattle that survived the storm.

 The scene on the fence line to the pasture our cattle were in prior to the storm. The majority of these animals are not ours, and our living cattle can be seen trailing up the road and back to their pasture. There is one of my cows in this area though, dead because she would not crawl through the fence with the rest of our herd.

 Everyone helped everyone, and shown are some of our neighbor's calves, which we put with our cattle and fed this week. The poor guy crawling through the fence was not all there mentally after his experience in the storm.

 My sister-in-law and I rode in search of our yearling heifers, counting and trailing everyone we found back home. These got out when a power line pole fell on the fence and they drifted over it. As you can see the ground didn't freeze and dealing with the deep mud was a big problem in getting around to check on animals, as was the deep snow on top of the mud.

The guilty power line pole. If not for it, we may not have lost any yearlings. Or, what we did lose may have been in a pile on this fence along with all you see alive in this picture.

This heifer was alone, stuck in the corner of a pasture by a winding creek filled with snow. Every time we drove her out to this corner, she headed back into the trees to stand in the same spot on the creek bank.

When my sister-in-law finally got off her horse to walk the heifer out, she found the reason behind her returning to the same location. All her buddies, and our missing count, were in the bottom of the creek.
This is a heifer we found buried in snow, but still alive! She is basically sitting on her butt, to give you an idea of how deep the snow was in this location.

These were not as fortunate.

 The gardener snake we also found partially buried, but alive.

 My father-in-law headed to the trees and creek where the buried alive heifer was located to help pull her out. Then she was carried in the tractor bucket to higher, dryer ground and propped up against a hay bale.

Carefully loading her up.

 My parents brought their feed pickup. loaded with food, water, a generator and a 4-wheeler, and helped us for two days. We are so blessed to have such amazing parents and families!

 Me, taking pictures for insurance and work purposes. This is next to the creek where our missing yearling heifers were found, including the one still alive.

At the end of the day, we were all worn out, including my sister-in-law and I, but it helped knowing for ourselves where we stood, what shape the livestock were in, and being able to move beyond the worry and concern of not knowing.
For those interested in learning more about the blizzard, who have questions regarding why we lost so many cattle, or who want to contribute toward helping those impacted, here are some additional links.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Facing the Atlas Blizzard

My family is among the western South Dakota ranchers who were directly in the path of winter storm Atlas. While many have heard there was a storm, many have not heard about the devastating loss of livestock, despite ranchers taking every precaution to prevent sickness and death.
This is our Katrina, our Sandy, our extremely rare and deadly tornado. The western plains are dotted with dead animals, some of them my own. Our lifestyle makes us independent, self sufficient people, and while we may not look it on the outside, we are crippled and heartbroken on the inside. This natural disaster has torn people's lives and livelihoods apart.
I cannot fully explain the feelings mixed within me that were almost physically sickening as my family and I rode in the blizzard's aftermath, searching for live cattle and identifying the dead. I did cover some aspects in a firsthand account I wrote for BEEF Magazine that can be read here.
Our animals, both those that lived and those that did not, are our pride and joy, what we have invested our entire financial means into, and what we have happily chosen to spend all our years caring for. There were countless tears as we worked to even make it to our cattle to see how they fared the storm, and many more as we worked through the heartbreaking process of finding animals that didn't survive, and still more here and there as we continue picking up the pieces and working to get past the initial shock, emotional and physical exhaustion so that we can continue to care our cattle that survived.
The thing that is shocking me most is the backlash of people blaming the ranchers, blaming me, for these losses. I cannot comprehend there being a separation between ranchers and animal lovers, as to me they are synonymous, but many feel those two words are on opposite ends of the spectrum. This is not true.
Shame on you for sitting behind the anonymity of a computer screen, in the comfort of your home or business, and slamming me, my friends and my neighbors who are too busy working through this natural disaster to take the time to reply to you, because we are out physically caring for our animals and those belonging to anyone else we happen to find.
I have yet to see one self proclaimed animal lover/hater of ranchers here physically helping and contributing to the welfare of animals, looking us in the eye, and knowing for themselves if their claims against us are justified or misguided.
Just as it is impossible to understand the aftermath of something like Katrina or Sandy, it is also impossible to understand how this natural disaster played out if you weren't front and center for it. My family, and all the people around us, did everything we ever learned in the course of multiple lifetimes in this business to prepare our cattle for the storm. Myself and my friends and neighbors all understand that an animal's needs are different than a humans in weather related situations, and that was also taken into consideration when determining what to do in preparation.
Many commenters have asked why we didn't have all the cattle in barns. There are a few reasons for this. One is that cattle, like wildlife, have the hair coats, hide and internal organs designed for the outdoors, and almost always survive weather events better in areas of natural protection instead of in barns. Another is that it is unfeasible to have the scale of barn it would require to house entire herds, and a huge barn would prevent the area from growing grass, which the cattle need more than a barn 99.9 percent of the time. A third reason is that while barns provide protection from some weather events, there is also increased concern of trampling or sickness when cattle are grouped that close together for an extended period of time, which is often more deadly than the weather event. Lastly, this being what it was, it didn't matter where the cattle were, and I feel very fortunate mine weren't in or near a barn as that is where many people suffered their greatest losses.
Another complaint I've seen in more than one place is this is just another way for us ranchers to get in line for a bailout, government subsidy, or other form of free money and federal help. Excuse me?! First, I have never, in my life, received any form of livestock related government subsidy and have no reason to believe that will change in light of this storm. Secondly, there is no government bailout that I've heard of. My husband and I had insurance, but were informed it will likely not cover our losses. We, and we alone, are financially responsible for our loss. To be perfectly clear, there is no federal government assistance occurring at all, no red cross, no army corps of engineers, and no money being dolled out to us. That is fine, and I am not complaining, simply setting the record straight on this misunderstanding.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking comment was made on the article I linked to above, where a person said that this was a better death than what the animals would have suffered at the hands of us murderous ranchers who take them to slaughter.
That person is wrong for many reasons. Yes, myself and the other ranchers of the area do raise livestock to provide meat to feed people. I understand that some people don't like or understand that concept, and that is their right. The issue I have is the belief of some that because we raise animals to feed people, those animals must be treated poorly their entire lives. That is not correct. I, and everyone else in the ranching industry invest our lives in providing the best care for our animals that we are physically, financially and emotionally able to do. If you can't comprehend or understand that, it's okay, but it is not okay for you to believe the worst of me and my efforts to provide a better lifestyle for my livestock than I do for myself simply because you don't know one way or the other.
I live in a house older than all the barns, working facilities and vehicles used to feed, work and care for our animals. I got my first pedicure for my wedding because every extra dollar I make goes into animal care. I loved that pedicure, but feel extreme guilt pampering myself instead of buying things like hay to feed our cows in the winter months, heat lamp bulbs to keep baby pigs warm or tires for the pickup we use to feed our cattle all winter, so it's unlikely I'll have another anytime soon. My cattle have the best available healthcare plan that is personalized and paid for out of my pocket, and I have the bones basic Aflac injury insurance plan and that is it. I don't do these things in a bid for sympathy, empathy or to "make it look like I care." I do them because I love my animals, and have the opportunity to make my living caring for them while they're alive. To me that opportunity is one of the greatest gifts God has given me.
However, yes, they will die in order to provide beef, and I am not a vicious person who relishes in that fact. If we could just do things as we wanted, just because, in life, I wouldn't ever have an animal die. But that's not reality, and when an animal does die to provide beef, it is done in such a way that it is instant and painless to the animal. Yes, they die, but they do not suffer, and I say that as someone who has done my own research and watched it happen. Decades of research by top universities and animal welfare individuals have created methods that make sure there is no pain for the animal.
So, to say that the animal was better off slowly freezing to death rather than going through an instantaneous, painless death was not correct in any way. It makes me irate that someone would accuse me of purposely harming and abusing an animal in any way, and especially beyond what mother nature does at her absolute worst.
It's fine if you don't know a lot about cattle, ranching, blizzards, western South Dakota or various other factors that were part of this massive natural disaster. But, that does not give you the right to attack and blame me and my friends and neighbors who are on the ground doing the hard labor picking up the pieces of what generations of our families have dedicated themselves to creating because this turned into a catastrophic weather event that resulted in loss of animals.
We did all we could before and during, and are continuing to do all we can after this storm, just as I'm sure people do when facing any major weather event. No one, not a single person, wanted this to happen, and the feelings of what it is like to look out over land your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents worked their entire lives on, and see it ravaged and dotted with deceased animals you've spent your life caring for is unimaginable.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Taking Responsbility for the Government Shutdown

Our federal government is shut down, thousands are on work furlough, our president is spitting mad, pointing fingers and continuing to blatantly show how under qualified he is to run our nation.
My husband and I are about to sell our calves, which means we will be getting our single livestock related paycheck for the year - the one we pay all our annual bills with. Due to having young rancher loans, my husband has to have the signature of a government worker that has been ordered not to work on his check before he can deposit it. If we cannot deposit that check, we will be unable to make our land, insurance and operating loan payments, along with numerous other smaller payments that are coming due before the end of the year.
We are definitely affected, and I tell you this first so you understand that my opinion is not that of someone who is in no way impacted by this shutdown, but as someone whose home and business are completely in question if things are not rectified in a timely manner.
The thing that makes me maddest is the general public's cry for a fix by Congress, their outrage against the other party, and the general mindset that Congress is solely responsible for this mess and consequently for fixing it.
Who elected Congress? I did, and you did. Without the American voter they would not be in a position to make decisions, or refuse to make decisions. We as citizens are the only reason each and every elected official, at any level of government, has a job/position.
This is our problem. The people responsible for this mess we're in is you and I, for our ignorance, lack of research, and/or refusal to show up and vote. For the general, lazy mindset in this country today that someone should fix it and take care of it for you, and for making Congress the latest responsible party for fixing what we should have fixed as citizens before it ever got to this point.
Now, I'm not saying that every single member of Congress is against working for the people, reaching solid solutions, or that every single American citizen made poor voting decisions. Based on what I've heard and read so far, the members I voted for that were elected are acting in ways I support the majority of the time. I have met with them in person and communicated with them in other ways to let my opinion, as a voting constituent known, in an effort to provide them insight as to what myself and my family, friends and neighbors expect of them.
What this also means is that going forward, we this citizens are responsible for helping to rectify this current mess and prevent a similar one in the future. That is done by knowing the issues, forming an opinion based on facts, communicating with your elected officials on your opinion and reasons for it, following future campaigns, and showing up to vote for the person who will work best on behalf of your community, occupation, religious beliefs, money management viewpoints, etc...
It is not accomplished by whining, spouting opinions that are based on nothing, pointing fingers everywhere but at yourself, and electing government officials on their looks, race or social status instead of on their ability to effectively run our country in a way that will make you proud to be an American.
You better believe that as a citizen of a new state I fully intend to do my research and vote as a well informed citizen in the next election, and continue to do my part to bring a stop to the current nonsense happening daily in our nations capital. I hope you will as well.