At least 1,000 cattle dead from northwest Nebraska blizzard
October 14th, 2013
Lincoln, NE — Walk the streets of Chadron, Neb. now, and you might not know that a blizzard blew through here last weekend: a weekâ€™s worth of moderate temperatures melted it all. What remains instead are piles and piles of tree limbs, brought down by the combination of wet, heavy snow and strong winds.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/cattleloss.mp3]
Bob Penor, a doctor here for 38 years, said this is new to him.
â€œIâ€™m originally from South Dakota â€“ grew up in this kind of country â€“ but Iâ€™ve never seen a blizzard this early in October,â€ he said. â€œAnd this is the worst damage Iâ€™ve ever seen happening this time of the year.â€
Elliott Medicine Crow, helping Penor with the clean-up operation, said the same kind of damage happened at the Eagleâ€™s Nest trailer park where he lives, just outside Chadron.
â€œTrees fell all over, on the trailer, on the fence,â€ he said. â€œJust got done cleaning it up right now.â€
Fortunately, Medicine Crow said, no one was hurt. But the same canâ€™t be said for an unknown number of cattle, killed by a combination of freezing rain, high winds and drifted snow.
â€œMost people visualize a rancher or farmer as (a) big, tough man,â€ said Shelly Thompson, who farms with her husband north of Whitney and spent the last week helping neighbors who lost cattle to the storm.
â€œYou know, Iâ€™ve seen a lot of producers cry over the last week,â€ she continued. â€œThe animals that they love, and that they have passion for, were taken.â€
Timing and location played a key role.
â€œIt was just the type of storm it was, very unusual coming this early in the fall, in October,â€ she said. â€œThe animals donâ€™t have their winter coat on yet. Theyâ€™re still out on grass â€“ theyâ€™re not up home in good shelter.â€
And even those who avoided immediate losses may still be affected, Thompson added.
â€œThe guys that their cattle was up in the timber, those guys fared a lot better with not losing cows,â€ she said. â€œHowever, those cows are going to start slinking calves in the next few weeks more than likely â€”aborting calves. Because they eat the pine needles and, long story short, it makes them abort the calves.â€
As of Friday morning, the official count of cattle losses for Dawes and Sioux Counties stood at 1,060, according to local emergency manager Nan Gould.
But Jeff Wallin, idling at a gas station in Crawford Thursday evening with his truck full of carcasses, reflected a widespread view that the actual count is much higher: â€œI started this morning at 8 and picked up close to 80 head already,â€ he said. â€œAnd another guy picked up 50. And they picked up from one rancher 300 head of cattle. And thereâ€™s thousands of them up here that are dead.â€
One estimate from a North Dakota newspaper put the number of dead cattle in neighboring South Dakota in the range of 60,000.
The financial effects are still unknown. A federal program to reimburse producers is caught up in the legislative paralysis over the farm bill.
But Wallin, who works for the Southwest Hide Company out of Scottsbluff, said the recovered carcasses will still be used.
â€œTheyâ€™ll skin â€˜em, and if theyâ€™re good enough, theyâ€™ll use the good meat for pet food,â€ he said. â€œIf not, they will ship the entrails and the bad stuff to Denver, and they will make it into another type of food for chickens and hogs. We will end up getting the hides and we will clean them up a little bit, â€¦ salt them, and ship them off to China or Mexico.â€
Back on the streets of Chadron, Phil Young has just finished chainsawing off damaged limbs from the elm tree in front of his house. During the storm, he had guests from Texas in town for his stepdaughterâ€™s wedding.
â€œWe showed them what itâ€™s like in northwest Nebraska,â€ he said. â€œThey probably wonâ€™t come back.â€
He said the newlyweds had to cancel their plans to honeymoon in the Black Hills.
â€œThe poor kids, they never did get to go on their honeymoon up into Sylvan Lake where they got about 55 inches of snow,â€ he said. â€œThey stayed here and helped clean up the yard on their honeymoon and they just left this morning.â€
Did they resume their plans to travel north for their honeymoon?
â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s closed still.
â€œThey thought maybe Costa Rica sounded good.â€
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