Estimates are still rising for how many cattle were killed by the blizzard that hit northwest Nebraska last weekend. Ranchers are still counting the dead animals.
No one knows exactly how many cattle were killed in last weekend’s blizzard. As of Thursday afternoon, Jodie Fawl of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency was citing estimates of 800 to 1,000 in Dawes County, where Chadron is located. She had no estimate yet for Sioux County, in the far northwest corner of the state.
But state Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis, himself a rancher, said one fellow rancher had lost hundreds:
"One of the ranchers had gathered his cows in and I heard yesterday he lost 350 cows," Davis said. "So they’re talking about thousands probably in Nebraska and the Dakotas, and in the whole storm system probably 60 to 100,000 head. So it’s a major, major hit to this region."
A report in the Jamestown, North Dakota newspaper cited the 60,000 figure for South Dakota. Even if the Nebraska figure is much lower, Davis said, the death toll will rise:
"A lot of those cattle are still under snow up there and they’re not going to emerge for a while," Davis said. "I did talk to a friend of mine who ranches in Sioux County. He had gone to gather cattle and he said he rode eight miles on horseback, and he said every stretch of trip he would see five or ten dead animals."
Rex Peterson, who ranches near Gordon, said the combination of snow, wind and rain created hard drifts that cattle could walk over fences on, making them hard to find. Davis, who didn’t lose any cattle himself, said a combination of factors apparently contributed to the high death toll:
"The supposition is it was really cold and very heavy rain early," Davis said. "And the cattle didn’t have their winter coats on – they really hadn’t haired out yet – it’s been warm. And then when the winds were about 70 miles an hour and a lot of drifting, so some of them drifted into ravines and they were smothered.
"One particular individual had 25 cows that had had calves just in the last two weeks and he lost 20 of his cows," Davis added. "The calves all survived. So we’re not really sure what happened to those cows. Maybe a smothering deal where they inhaled the water and drowned."
NEMA is advising people to document their losses, by means such as a statement from a veterinarian or county extension agent, photographs, or receipts for expenses associated with carcass removal. However, a federal program to reimburse ranchers for cattle losses has expired. Reauthorizing that program is part of the farm bill, which remains bottled up in Congress.