Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The calves of fall

Last week I grabbed my camera and headed out to check the cow's water, with the goal of getting some nice photos of our whopping steer calves. It proved as easy as getting a photo of a group of elementary school-aged human males where they're all looking at you and smiling, but the beautiful day did lend itself nicely to capturing other members of the bunch.
I just love this old, falling down windmill!


One of the "pinkies," whose mother came with me from Wyoming.

There they are - the best I could do of multiple steer calves.

The heifer calves were much happier to pose.

These calves are out of our first-calf heifers, three-year olds, and a handful of my older cows. Some are AI bred (the lower numbers), and some are bull bred. We are very excited and nervous to sell the big end of the steers in the next couple weeks in what has been a record breaking calf market all year. The money they make us will have to last us an entire year, until we sell next year's calf crop.
Part of the reason for taking their picture is to remember the (hopefully) highest priced calves we've ever sold. We have been blessed with an awesome year in western South Dakota, and that in combination with the high cattle prices has us and our cattle in excellent spirits going into fall.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The haters

Last year this week I was busy. Very busy. We were in the middle of facing the exhausting aftermath of winter storm Atlas, and in addition to my responsibilities as a rancher, I was also faced with multiple media outlets wanting articles, interviews, statements and photos from the blizzard. I responded to as many inquiries as fast as I could, and those photos, statements, interviews and firsthand accounts made their way into the public's eye.
It's a known fact that there are people who dislike agriculture, ranching, farming, and ultimately me. While I find that to be a shortsighted opinion on their part, considering any such people that I have communicated with have never been on a farm or ranch, met a farmer or rancher, or had an firsthand interaction with agriculture at all, it is nevertheless their right to dislike me. While I do take an interest in providing truthful information about myself, my occupation and my lifestyle to any and everyone, I am also typically okay with those people who feel the need to respond in an accusatory, hateful manner. I've done my best, and if they are so hate filled that they cannot, at the very least, take into consideration what I say, then I don't need to waste my time worrying about their thought processes.
But, things are different sometimes. Like when my favorite old baldy cow - the one whose mom was first 4-H heifer lay dead because she would not crawl through a fence to save her life, and I was holding myself together by a thread in between phone calls, Skype interviews and article submissions. Reminding myself that we did everything we could do, despite feeling completely responsible for the loss of life experienced in our herd. When immediately after hitting send on the latest email, I was out the door to help in clean up efforts, caring for the living, hauling the deceased away, and ensuring all the other daily tasks that are involved in our life were completed.
And when, in the midst of that, comments came back to me calling me a sickening disgrace to humanity, and especially women. Others called me a murderer, someone only saddened by my economic loss, a liar, incapable of real emotion. The list goes, and was often posted by "anonymous" sources.
Normally these comments roll of my back easily - I would so much rather discuss farming and ranching topics in a respectful manner with folks who don't always agree with my lifestyle or choices, and I am not usually bothered by those who simply attack instead of seek to know. But, this time the comments struck a chord, and they still do.
Not one person outside the immediate ranching community, their immediate friends and family showed up to help with immediate recovery efforts. No animal rights activists were found out in the cold, then the mud, then the flood waters, and it infuriates me that a human could be so dense that they truly believe themselves to know and actually be carrying out actions from behind a computer screen that are better for animals than someone who is out braving the elements to physically, financially and emotionally do everything they possibly can for them. There is no comparison, and no question in my mind who the true environmentalists were in this instance.
I am also frustrated that in any other occupation, people with firsthand experience are considered experts in their field. Most of the people facing this blizzard had 100-plus years of family experience backing the decisions they made prior, during and after the storm. Multiple generations of families have risked everything they had to make a go at this job out of love for it, and most have thrived, yet we are still classified as idiots by many who have zero experience in this occupation.
You do not make it in farming or ranching without putting your land and livestock first, every single day. Each person who faced that storm took the available weather information, and compared it against generations of raising cattle in those same pastures and centuries of surviving storms without loss, and they put all that together into the most likely management strategy to result in every animal coming through alive and with as little stress as possible.
Every single one of those strategies was wrong - we were all wrong. Not because there was a right answer that every person missed, but because there was no way to prevent the deaths. Cattle died in pastures and locations where livestock have never before been lost in a storm. Cattle in barns and sheds died - this was often the worst place to have them because the weight of the snow caused roofs to collapse and kill entire herds. Cattle behind windbreaks, in corrals and tucked into other forms of manmade protection died. Cattle put in garages died. Cattle died in every single scenario in the areas hit hardest by the storm died. There was no right answer that could have saved them.
To blame the rancher for this, to blame me for this, is the equivalent of blaming your neighbor for the house or business you lost in Hurricane Sandy, or stating a parent was responsible for the death of their child at Plaza Tower or Briarwood Elementary school in Oklahoma following the twister that destroyed much of town of Moore. Just as those people did all they could, but were incapable of saving anything more in the face of such catastrophic weather events, so did we. Those people did what was right when a tornado siren went off, or a Hurricane was predicted, and so did we. We had no more control of the weather last October than they did in Oklahoma or New Orleans those fateful days, and we wish as hard as they do that we did.
Imagine how they would feel if their actions were questioned, if people left them random comments taunting them over the death of a loved one or the loss of their entire life's work. That is what we faced in the days and weeks following winter storm Atlas, and it was crippling at times. It also did absolutely no good in any way - it did not help a cause, a human or an animal impacted by the storm.
If you disagree with our methods, or our lifestyle at times, that is alright. But to attack us based on a lack of understanding and conscience, no matter if it's done in person or the anonymity of the Internet, is wrong. I would happily meet you in person, take you out to where our cattle were, and explain what happened. You can look me in the eye and decide for yourself if I cared, if I tried, and if I was emotionally attached to those animals. We can talk about any other cattle, ranching, farming or agriculture topic you would like. On the other hand, all your degrading, cruel comments will do is infuriate me and build my resolve to continue sharing the truth about my life - the good, bad and unimaginable, so that every single person has the opportunity to hear my perspective of what being a rancher is all about.

Friday, October 3, 2014

One year ago: Winter Storm Atlas

One year ago the Atlas blizzard hit. I was fortunate to be a part of extensive coverage of the devastating weather event in between helping gather and care for the living and laying the dead to rest. I am incredibly grateful for the coverage the storm got on agriculture news outlets, and for the opportunity to be a voice for myself, my friends and neighbors. I still find it hard to believe that one of my biggest successes as a journalist was the result of a blizzard, but I am thankful as well. God works in mysterious, wonderful ways. However, he also doesn't stop time, and we have had to stay on our toes to keep ahead the past year.
With that same mindset, I am also grateful for the surge of attention the storm is receiving on its one-year anniversary, but hope it is somewhat laid to rest after this anniversary. It's one of those things where you wish you didn't have to read anything else about it, but that you're simultaneously grateful for the support and desire and explain what has happened to those impacted by the storm.
With that said, here is an article I wrote in the days following the blizzard.
Here is a second link to a special edition I was honored to be a part of that details the storm, those affected and those who helped. It just came out this week in the tri-sate area (SD, WY, NE).
And, here is a thank-you piece circulating the web that states how those impacted by the storm feel a year later which does a wonderful job explaining everyone's mindset one year later.
I hope you take the time to read at least the first and last links, and they clearly show the changes that have occurred in our mentality over a year's time, as well as the impact everyone who helped us has had.
Below are photos from the days after the storm, many never before seen, of what we found, how we lived without electricity for nearly a week, and of the storm itself. While initially among the most heartbreaking and difficult experiences I have ever been through, over the past year the good Lord has turned this event into a truly amazing showcase of this love, grace and kindness poured out through those who believe in Him. Thank you to any and everyone who helped those impacted by Winter Storm Atlas in any way. It was so humbling and incredible to be on the receiving end, and the gifts people sent made all the difference in the world as we faced the storm's impacts over the long, bitterly cold winter that followed. We are forever changed for the better by your generosity and selflessness, and we are going to make it just fine. May God Bless you and American agriculture!

Gathering the living, and the electric pole that let them out of their pasture during the storm.

Trying to save a yearling heifer.

Our yearling heifers. The hardest site we came upon in our search.

How we kept our food cold without electricity for days following the storm.

How we cooked.

 How we ate while searching.
How we ate at night. Lasagna heated on a wood fire. I made a huge lasagna by chance (at God's silent urging) two days before the blizzard hit. It became our staple meal for nearly a week.

Trying to save a heifer buried alive in the snow. She was sitting on her rump, and was still a foot below the top of the drift when we found her.

 Taking pictures while searching.
 What the storm did to all our trees.