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Advanced warning helped ranchers prepare for historic blizzard

Blizzard conditions moved through most of North Dakota, as well as parts of Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota April 12-14, 2022. Ranchers in the area, many of whom are deep into calving season, prepared as best they could to protect their animals.

Cattle and humans moved through the darkness with low visibility as snow falls and piles in drifts. A light in the distance is obscured.
Jennifer Hausauer, a rancher in Halliday, North Dakota, sent this photo, taken during the April 2022 blizzard.
Contributed / Jennifer Hausauer
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Ample warning that most of North Dakota was going to get slammed with heavy snow and wind gave ranchers time to prepare as best as they could for the storm.

The “Colorado Low” had been in the forecast for a few days prior to the storm that began on April 12. The storm, as of the morning of Thursday, April 14, produced heavy snowfall across a wide swath of the region. The storm swirled across much of North Dakota from Tuesday to Thursday and also produced heavy snowfall in parts of Montana, northwestern South Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.

The National Weather Service received widespread reports of more than 20 inches of snow in western and north central North Dakota, including the highest totals as of Thursday morning of 30.5 inches in Glenburn and 30 in Minot. Much of North Dakota, save the southeastern corner that received mostly rain, reported at least a foot of snow.

In Montana, 13.9 inches fell in Billings and 20 in Miles City. Several spots in northwestern South Dakota near the North Dakota border reported a foot of snow. Key West, Minnesota, near Grand Forks, reported 14 inches.

Adding to the massive snowfall were winds that reached more than 60 mph in some places. The combination of snow and wind caused drifts that closed roads and wreaked havoc on ranches.

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On the night of Tuesday, April 12, Cody Bratlie, who ranches near Northwood on the east side of the state, moved his cow and calf pairs inside a lean-to shelter. About 45 of his cattle have calved, while the remaining 30 cows are due in the next few weeks. The storm didn’t kick up in that area until Tuesday afternoon.

Bratlie’s main concern was that the calves, which were born beginning in late March, would get wet if they were outside, which could make them vulnerable to pneumonia.

All was well with the calves on Wednesday morning, Bratlie said.

“They were dry and they were nursing. The sun’s out and it looks good,” Bratlie said.

However, the ranch yard was deep with snow and a “mess.” Bratlie estimated that about a foot of heavy wet snow fell on his ranch, which is about eight miles west of Northwood.

“I just bought new boots the other day, and the snow was over the top of them,” he said.

Calving during the spring storm was ironic for Bratlie, because he moved his cow’s due dates forward in an effort to avoid having them born in cold weather which would require that he would have to put the cattle in the barn.

The barn on the farm where he and his wife Jenna, and three sons, moved to two years ago is small so Bratlie hoped that by calving later he wouldn’t have to crowd the cows and calves into it.

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A man, who is carrying a red calf, is seen from the back. A tractor is on the left side of the frame. Snow-covered cows are in the distance.
Austin Schmidt carries a calf toward bedding during the April 2022 blizzard. Photo taken near Crystal Springs, North Dakota.
Contributed / Schmidt Ranch

“I thought If I calved in April, I wouldn’t have to deal with this mess. I have more of a mess now than when I calved early,” Bratlie said.

However, he’s glad that he knew about the impending storm so he could get his livestock inside, even though it wasn’t an optimal shelter.

“It turned out really good,” Bratlie said.

On the western side of the state, near Watford City, ranchers Jessie Veeder, her husband, Chad Scofield,and Veeder’s father Gene Veeder, worked in the days before the storm to make sure their cattle had plenty of feed and bedded them down in the trees were they have shelter from the wind.

“We had several days' warning,” Jessie said. During that time they made sure they had enough fuel for the tractors and gave the cattle extra feed.

“In preparation, we have probably been triple feeding for the last several days, trying to get a bedding area established,” Chad said.

The snow started falling at about noon on Tuesday and by Wednesday afternoon was piled deep, Jessie said.

“It’s pretty ugly out there,” she said. “It’s over our heads in some places. It’s past the cow’s bellies.”

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Veeder cows.jpg
Cattle in Watford City, North Dakota, at Veeder Ranch.
Contributed / Gene Veeder

There are a few calves on the ground, but most of the cows will begin calving next week. Veeder Ranch times calving after mid-April in an effort to avoid the spring storms that are pretty common in western North Dakota.

“We just started calving. Our actual date is April 18, so anything we do have is early,” Chad said. “In some cases, we’re better off than our neighbors because they are in the thick of calving,” he said.

In south-central North Dakota, according to weather reports, 17.5 inches of snow fell at Baldwin where it still was snowing and blowing on Thursday morning.

“Looking out the yard, that’s pretty accurate,” said Perry Moser, who ranches near Baldwin.

Moser Simmental Ranch had six cows left to calve before the storm — which started in that area on Tuesday morning — and five of them gave birth during it, he said.

The cows were inside when they calved. When the storm was forecast, Moser also decided to keep several days-old calves inside and bedded down a calf barn for the older calves. Moser’s herd of 140 began calving in February.

So far he has adequate straw and feed for his cattle, but hopes that he won’t have to use more of his supplies for storm-related emergencies.

“If we don’t get any more weather, I think we will be OK,” Moser said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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