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Published April 22, 2013, 12:45 PM

ND ranchers weather storm while calving

A photo of a North Dakota rancher delivering a calf during a blizzard goes viral.

By: Betsy Simon, Forum News Service

High winds and knee-deep snow, it is no place for a newborn to come into the world.

But those are elements that cannot be avoided during calving season — as was the case in North Dakota the weekend of April 13 and 14 — and farmers and ranchers must act to save their herds.

“We knew who was due around this time, so we had them sorted up before the storm and made sure that the ones getting ready to calve were closest to the barn,” says Amanda Talkington, who along with her husband, Shane, are the fourth generation on their ranch north of Fryburg, N.D. “But we’ve had experiences where we weren’t as prepared and once the snow gets too deep, those were the times we had to bring the cows in one-by one.”

Talkington’s best advice for those calving in conditions such as those that occurred that weekend is to prepare as best as possible when there are calls for a big storm and get the cows moved to a safe place.

A safe place was much needed April 14 in southwest North Dakota, which officially received as much as 16 inches of snow and had areas report up to 22 inches, along with near-zero visibility in many areas and icy roads.

Low-pressure systems have long been said by ranchers to usher in high-birthing rates in livestock.

North Dakota Stockmen’s Association vice president Steve Brooks, who ranches near Bowman, N.D., says many producers avoid calving before mid-April to dodge bad winter storms that make the job much more difficult.

But he says North Dakota’s weather is often unpredictable.

“We get these spring storms every once in awhile, but this storm was unusually late in the year,” he says. “The best thing that can be done is to get (the cattle) some protection, like windbreaker sheds. Many people don’t calve until mid-April to avoid this kind of weather and they don’t plan for it because it’s unusual.”

Talkington, who says she and her husband have been on the ranch for 11 years, says they were lucky not to lose any calves during the snowstorm, which was also the case for Jorden Hausauer and his wife, Elsabe, of Halliday, N.D., whose ordeal recently went viral on the Internet.

Elsabe, who is originally from South Africa and helped warm and feed the calves, posted a photo online of her husband cradling a newborn calf in his arms in an effort to save the animal as he ran through the knee-deep snow during April 14’s blizzard-like conditions.

The picture captured the attention of Facebook users, who shared the photo hundreds of times and showed their support for Hausauer’s efforts under the worst of circumstances, with comments such as“Bless his heart” and “That’s a hero for you.”

The Hausauers were married a few years ago and have an almost 2-year-old daughter, Kenzley, who Elsabe says sat — and sometimes hollered at the calves or slept — in the tractor as her parents rushed the newborn calves to safety.

While her husband was not new to the urgency of the situation, Elsabe says the ordeal was something she had never experienced before and she “just hoped that there was nothing under the snow.

“Now we have a whole barn full of caves, but it was definitely a different experience for me,” she says. “We have cattle in South Africa too, but it is different there and this gave me a whole new respect for what ranchers in North Dakota have to go through. Everybody gets worked up when the cows start calving because they want to save the calves, so it was nice when we got them all in the barn and knew they were all safe.”