Area ranchers persevere through historic April snow storm Wesley
Winter storm Wesley, 2019's second bomb cyclone, presented itself as a heavy favorite in last week's scuffle with our community. Snowfall and dropping temps late Tuesday night were simply a "warm up" to what area ranchers would deal with in the next 72 hours. For others in Jerauld County it was freezing rain that suited up first thing Wednesday morning. Creating a dangerous glaze on roads and soaking what dry spots cattle had previously laid on just hours prior. School, local sports and event cancellations were put into place to create as little travel as possible.
Livestock hunkered down behind shelter and ranchers hovered over their herds. For many area producers this is the heart of calving season- baby calves born under these conditions would surely succumb to the unforgiving opponent Mother Nature as she dropped down nearly a foot of measurable snow on the first forecasted day of the storm (April 10). And then the wind tagged itself in. It floated around us, blowing in more wet heavy snow from the Northeast, something our area is not used to combating, especially at 40 mph. Worried and weary, some slept in their tractors or barns hoping to catch any mother cow in the process of labor and get her to safety.
Thursday morning got worse. Dragging calves in sleds and placing them in tractor scoops their owners ensured they received the necessary first drink of colostrum, the essential first milk a mother cow produces to transfer important immune, growth factors and nutrients to the newborn calf. The ingestion of colostrum is pivotal in the survival and long term health of newborn calves, even in ideal weather conditions.
Snow still falling, producers carved and navigated paths to their stock on Thursday afternoon, visibility was near zero but that didn't mean a pause for calving. The wind howled and caused major drifting- and then changed its course, stinging us with a frigid Northwest current. This should have been a knockout, but area producers shook it off and kept on. Another foot of heavy snow accumulated, colder temperatures set in and more cows needing in the barn proposed a problem. Shops, garages, tractor cabs and bathtubs became a place of refuge for many baby calves when the barn was full. When would this wretched storm cease?
For some, the snow finally quit coming late Friday morning. For others it lingered in the air until Friday evening. There was no time for score card tabulations, rescued warm calves needed to be reunited with their mothers. Orphan calves needed to be fostered by cows that lost theirs. The retaliation against storm Wesley began even before the fight was over. In the real-world, lopsided matches are rarely won by the underdog. No matter the sport, battle or contest, the larger, stronger opponent typically assumes victory.
But as the new week unfolds and bright sun sheds light on deep tractor ruts cows feverishly munch on hay, trying to replenish and restore their energy. A soft cry from a small untagged calf can be heard in the distance. Miraculous life among the disappointment.
As ranchers discover newborn stock in mud holes that perished, they are often pleasantly surprised by the ones that somehow did. Withstanding the below the belt punches this calving season has been painful, but each live calf represents a small victory.
Soon enough we will have pressed through, wounds healed. Deep green grass will tickle our stock's bellies as they trail down a draw to water. We will find our favorite calves and dream of their future in the herd. We'll never win the championship against Mother Nature, but we will always have patience, persistence and passion in our corner.