A storm with a silver lining?
By Trent Loos
The blizzard of 2013 will undoubtedly be one of the storms that is talked about for generations to come. I was fortunate, or not, to have driven from Hettinger, N.D., south through the heart of the devastation. I will be honest, in 47 years of animal rearing I have been a part of some real wrecks but I have never witnessed anything like this. Just along the highway, I saw at least 200 dead cows lying in the pastures, mostly along fence lines.
I believe the latest number has the total number of dead livestock estimated at approximately 100,000 head. Every time I lose even one animal, I remind myself, “if you have livestock, you are going to have dead stock.” Yet that sentiment will not be enough for our rancher friends faced with this challenge in the Dakotas and western Nebraska.
As I have talked to people throughout the country, the most common question I get is, “You folks in that country are used to big snows. Why was this one different?” I think that even the ranchers who are still looking for animals are asking the same question.
The most realistic answer seems to be that a very cold rain preceded 2 feet of blowing, wet snow. Combine that with the fact that most of these cows are in the last days of lactation, supporting a 600-pound calf, and you have the perfect storm.
I will admit that I was one of the first people to be critical of my brothers in the Dakotas who were quick to post pictures of piles of dead cows. I think in today’s information age, this was a grave mistake. I understand that we want the nation and the world to know some of the struggles we must endure to ensure a healthy, reasonably priced supply of food for our global consumers, but I think there is a better way.
Throughout the course of history there have been milestone storms such as this one that have created havoc for the given species, whether it be bison, deer or pheasants. The real story that should make the headlines of the all major newspapers throughout the land is this: Ranchers’ fortitude comes through despite Mother Nature.
There is no doubt that families are going to be hit hard financially with this storm. There is no disputing that. But mark my words, most will find a way to recover, get their feet back under them and get back to their chosen passion of taking care of land and livestock because they are not simply making a living; they are continuing God’s work converting natural resources into the essentials of life for mankind.
As a means of clarification, I did not say that pictures should not be posted at all but that they should include a person. That person should be showing the many ways they have worked to leave this world a place better than they found it.
That is the one thing that is different in this area of the country and it is has been since the beginning of time. The placement of this steward, the rancher, to deal with the adversities that Mother Nature sends our way is no accident. If you don’t believe this country can be harsh, then you have not actually seen the Badlands. The fact that any animals survived this storm can only be credited to the hard work of these ranching families. They have made a life, not just a living, working to provide the best possible care for their herds.
In closing, we have been given an opportunity in the storm. The cow is the most misunderstood creature on earth. She is amazing in that her job is to consume cellulosic materials otherwise only good for fueling fires. She converts this cellulose material, in her fermentation vat, into food, fiber, pharmaceuticals and fuel.
There will be many outsiders in the coming days that will launch arrows of neglect as the reason for this massive death loss. However, if handled properly, this could be our greatest opportunity to explain the true value this magnificent bovine critter to the world.
Our prayers and support will continue until these ranch families are back on their feet. If you can help out, I urge you to do so.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.