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Published March 31, 2014, 06:37 PM

Many ranchers were ready for March blizzard

Ranchers in the area say they were mostly prepared for the blizzard that swept through cattle country starting March 30. They say the storm was no comparison to the October blizzard that killed more than 40,000 animals.

By: Mikkel Pates,

FARGO, N.D. – Ranchers were mostly prepared for the blizzard that swept through cattle country starting March 30, they said.

Randy Gorman, a cow-calf operator in Wibaux, Mont., just west of Beach, N.D., said he was happy he’d timed his 100-cow herd’s calving to April 1 a few years ago.

"We got 8 inches (Sunday) night, and some pretty good drifts,” Gorman says. “It’s wet, and I’m feeling fortunate right now we don’t have calves yet.”

Gorman’s cattle were chilled by rain before the temperature turned cold. It was 13 degrees the morning of March 31, but climbed to the mid-30s by afternoon. “The road is sucking in enough ultraviolet rays that it starts steaming when it gets plowed,” Gorman says. “We’re supposed to get more precipitation of some kind.”

Luella Leland, who with her husband, Melvin, run Leland Red Angus in Squaw Gap, N.D., east of Sidney, Mont., said her ranch had been on the north end of the storm. “It was cold and windy,” she said, on March 31. “We got 2 to 3 inches of snow, but now the sun is out.” She said it had gotten quite cold, but she didn’t think the ranch lost anything, although some calves might have had frost-bitten ears.

Wes Andrews, who ranches eight miles northwest of Bowman, N.D., says his herd of some 300 cows is about halfway through calving. He thought the ranch probably had about a foot of snow.

People had gotten enough warning of the storm, Andrews thought. “We spent all day yesterday (March 30) getting ready to move everything behind windbreaks, get everything bedded down,” he said. “The only one we lost that we know of is one born this morning, and we just missed it. The next thing now will be scours (diarrhea) when it warms up."

Andrews said it’s possible there would be some cattle lost if they drifted through or over fences. He said there is “no comparison” between this storm and the Oct. 4 blizzard that killed 43,000 livestock in South Dakota and thousands in southeast North Dakota.

The cattle in that one didn’t have their winter hair coats and it rained several inches before the punishing winds came. “The good thing about this one is that it lasted during the night, and quit before noon,” Andrews said. “If it would have lasted two or three days, it would have been worse.”

Similarly, Dave Tweeten whose family runs about 500 cows near Turtle Lake, N.D., is about halfway through calving. Heifers started calving Feb. 1 and the cow herd started calving in mid-March. He figures his operation was hit with about 11 to 12 inches of snow. “We saw it on the DTN screen and it looked like a zone that was in the bulls-eye,” he said. Snow was heaviest at 1:30 a.m. on March 31.

Tweeten said his ranch had worked to put out a lot more portable calf shelters, and a lot of bedding. He said the crew stayed up all night, watching cows, trying to bring them in just before they calved. “Now we’ve got a lot of snow to move,” he said.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture worked together to warn producers to take action against the blizzard.

State Veterinarian Susan Keller urged producers to gather their animals into sheltered areas with adequate feed and water. “This is a particularly difficult time for producers with calving well underway, and making sure these animals – especially the calves – are sheltered is an absolute priority,” Keller said.

Ranchers needing help were asked to contact local Extension Service agents, county law enforcement or the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. The storm warning was in effect to Beach, Medora and Killdeer areas through Beulah, Washburn and Garrison to McClusky and Rugby, with snow totals of 6 to 12 inches predicted and gusts to 35 mph. The Grand Forks area was bracing for up to 20 inches.

Producers can monitor the National Weather Service website at www.weather.gov/bis for up-to-date reports.

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