Ranchers dig out after blizzard in Agweek country

MADDOCK, N.D. -- Some Upper Midwest ranchers are still digging out after the Christmas weekend blizzard that dumped as much as 18 inches of snow in parts of the region.

Blizzard Alivia
Eric Hylden, Forum News Service

MADDOCK, N.D. - Some Upper Midwest ranchers are still digging out after the Christmas weekend blizzard that dumped as much as 18 inches of snow in parts of the region.

“It was a doozy for sure,” Julie Schaff Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, said in an email. She was still stormed in at her family ranch near St. Anthony, N.D., when contacted Tuesday morning by Agweek.

Initial reports from Ellingson and others indicate cattle and sheep losses are very light, at least in most areas.


Ranchers had plenty of advance warning, which allowed them to move livestock to relative safety and to give animals extra feed, says Dave Ollila, Rapid City-based sheep field specialist with South Dakota Extension. He also ranches near Newell, S.D.

Ollila and others say some rural areas lost power for long stretches of Christmas weekend and that some were still without power Tuesday morning. Freezing rain and sleet that fell just before the snow contributed to problems with power lines, as did winds of as much as 60 mph.

Much, if not most, of the heaviest snow appears to have fallen in north-central North Dakota.

Justin Maddock, a Maddock, N.D., rancher, estimates that his area received 16 to 18 inches of snow.


“There’s more snow than we’ve ever seen here at this point (in winter),” he says.

Maddock isn’t aware of any cattle killed by the storm. But, he and other ranchers in his area need to clear snow and open roads, a laborious job.

“There’s just a lot of digging,” he says.

Many roads in the area were still blocked Tuesday morning, says Scott Knoke, Benson County (N.D.) extension agent.


Minnesota, Montana Western Minnesota generally received less snow than the Dakotas.

Krist Wollum, who ranches in Porter, Minn., in the southwest part of the state, says freezing rain and heavy winds were a bigger concern than snow.

Livestock producers usually worry more about freezing rain, which can chill animals and lead to illness and death, than they do about snow. But Wollum says livestock in his area appears to have come through the storm without major problems.

Parts of northwest Minnesota received about 4 to 8 inches of snow, but not much freezing rain. Dan Anderson, a Roseau rancher, says ranchers in his area appear to have avoided serious damage.


Eastern Montana generally missed the worst of the Christmas blizzard, says Dave Hinneland, a Circle rancher.

“The storms so far this winter have gone to the east or west of us,” he says.

Snow-filled winters are always challenging for ranchers, though modern equipment, including heated cabs on tractors, makes the job a little easier, Ollila says.

Livestock requires more hay and feed in long, cold and snowy winters, which the winter of 2016 to ’17 could end up being. So, ranchers who harvested poor hay crops this summer are concerned, Ollila says.


The past few winters, especially the winter of 2015 to ’16,  featured unusually mild, dry conditions. As a result, ranchers needed less feed and bedding than usual.

After the weekend blizzard, “Feed resources are being expended at a much faster rate than the last few years,” Ellingson says. “It'll take more groceries and bedding with all the snow.”

Read an updated version of this article in the Jan. 2 print issue of Agweek.

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