Give Panhandle Ranchers a Break

Husker Home Place

Talk about kicking someone when they are down, early October blizzard hits Panhandle ranchers already suffering from last year.

Published on: October 22, 2013

Alright, enough is enough Mother Nature! I’m sure that’s what northern Panhandle ranchers are thinking right now. Forget rain, or snow, or dark of night, they have experienced tragedy and challenges to their agriculture operations of biblical proportions over the past 18 months.

First, last summer was a complete and total disaster. No rain, no grass to speak of, and cow herd liquidations were all too common.

Then, in late August and early September, wildfires ignited the already dry Pine Ridge and sent much of it up in smoke. More than 250 square miles of grassland and around 68,000 acres of forest, including beautiful stands of Ponderosa pines, were burned in that section of the state. Ranches were destroyed. Rangeland was wiped out. More cow herds were liquidated in the face of financial ruin.

DROUGHT, SNOW AND FIRE: Panhandle ranchers have been hit by all of these calamities over the past year or so.
DROUGHT, SNOW AND FIRE: Panhandle ranchers have been hit by all of these calamities over the past year or so.

They had a little snow in April and some timely rains in late summer this year, so there was some reason for optimism. Fences were being replaced. The soil moisture profile was getting better.

Then, in early October, another disaster struck. Several inches of wet, early season snow and blizzard conditions pushed cattle that were grazing on summer rangeland into ravines and corrals, where they suffocated under the record snow. As if the Pine Ridge hadn’t been hit hard enough, this was just another tragedy ranchers have to deal with.

I know the old saying, “If something can go bad, it will.” But I feel like the Panhandle producers have been hit to the extreme.

Fortunately, they are a stubborn, determined lot of people. They are as sturdy as they come and will find a way to overcome cattle losses from the blizzard that are probably going to run between 2000 and 3000 head in the region. But I can only imagine how difficult this is to swallow, especially after more than 5000 head of cattle left the region last summer because of drought and wildfire.

The ranchers of that region and from the Black Hills area and eastern Wyoming hit so hard by this recent blizzard have our prayers. If you would like to donate to relief funds established to help these ranchers, you can contribute to a rancher relief fund established through the Chadron Community Foundation in Chadron. To help South Dakota ranchers, contribute to the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund, administered through the Black Hills Area Community Foundation.

Here is this week’s discussion question. What is the worst early season blizzard you can recall? You can share your thoughts and observations right here.

Read more about harvest season by visiting Nebraska Farmer online. You can read my new print column in Nebraska Farmer called Bow Creek Chronicles. You can follow me at Husker Home Place on Twitter. And don't miss my special Field Editor's Report in this space the last Friday of every month, offering the back story on farmers producing our food and protecting our natural resources. Pass it on!