At least 1,000 cattle dead from northwest Nebraska blizzard

Dead cattle lie piled on the side of the road north of Crawford, Neb., killed by an early blizzard last week. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
Jeff Wallin's truck is filled with cattle carcasses killed by a blizzard last week in northwest Nebraska. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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October 11, 2013 - 4:30pm

In northwest Nebraska, cleanup continues from last weekend’s early-season blizzard. Ranchers are dealing with cattle killed by the snowstorm, while townspeople cope with piles of downed tree limbs.


Walk the streets of Chadron, Neb. now, and you might not know that a blizzard blew through here last weekend: a week’s worth of moderate temperatures melted it all. What remains instead are piles and piles of tree limbs, brought down by the combination of wet, heavy snow and strong winds.

Bob Penor, a doctor here for 38 years, said this is new to him.

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These photos of dead cattle are graphic in nature; to see the full picture, click the obscured images below.

Photos by Fred Knapp, NET News

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“I’m originally from South Dakota – grew up in this kind of country – but I’ve never seen a blizzard this early in October,” he said. “And this is the worst damage I’ve ever seen happening this time of the year.”

Elliott Medicine Crow, helping Penor with the clean-up operation, said the same kind of damage happened at the Eagle’s Nest trailer park where he lives, just outside Chadron.

“Trees fell all over, on the trailer, on the fence,” he said. “Just got done cleaning it up right now.”

Fortunately, Medicine Crow said, no one was hurt. But the same can’t be said for an unknown number of cattle, killed by a combination of freezing rain, high winds and drifted snow.

“Most people visualize a rancher or farmer as (a) big, tough man,” said Shelly Thompson, who farms with her husband north of Whitney and spent the last week helping neighbors who lost cattle to the storm.

“You know, I’ve seen a lot of producers cry over the last week,” she continued. “The animals that they love, and that they have passion for, were taken.”

Timing and location played a key role.

“It was just the type of storm it was, very unusual coming this early in the fall, in October,” she said. “The animals don’t have their winter coat on yet. They’re still out on grass – they’re not up home in good shelter.”

And even those who avoided immediate losses may still be affected, Thompson added.

“The guys that their cattle was up in the timber, those guys fared a lot better with not losing cows,” she said. “However, those cows are going to start slinking calves in the next few weeks more than likely —aborting calves. Because they eat the pine needles and, long story short, it makes them abort the calves.”

As of Friday morning, the official count of cattle losses for Dawes and Sioux Counties stood at 1,060, according to local emergency manager Nan Gould.

But Jeff Wallin, idling at a gas station in Crawford Thursday evening with his truck full of carcasses, reflected a widespread view that the actual count is much higher: “I started this morning at 8 and picked up close to 80 head already,” he said. “And another guy picked up 50. And they picked up from one rancher 300 head of cattle. And there’s thousands of them up here that are dead.”

One estimate from a North Dakota newspaper put the number of dead cattle in neighboring South Dakota in the range of 60,000.

The financial effects are still unknown. A federal program to reimburse producers is caught up in the legislative paralysis over the farm bill.

But Wallin, who works for the Southwest Hide Company out of Scottsbluff, said the recovered carcasses will still be used.

“They’ll skin ‘em, and if they’re good enough, they’ll use the good meat for pet food,” he said. “If not, they will ship the entrails and the bad stuff to Denver, and they will make it into another type of food for chickens and hogs. We will end up getting the hides and we will clean them up a little bit, … salt them, and ship them off to China or Mexico.”

Back on the streets of Chadron, Phil Young has just finished chainsawing off damaged limbs from the elm tree in front of his house. During the storm, he had guests from Texas in town for his stepdaughter’s wedding.

“We showed them what it’s like in northwest Nebraska,” he said. “They probably won’t come back.”

He said the newlyweds had to cancel their plans to honeymoon in the Black Hills.

“The poor kids, they never did get to go on their honeymoon up into Sylvan Lake where they got about 55 inches of snow,” he said. “They stayed here and helped clean up the yard on their honeymoon and they just left this morning.”

Did they resume their plans to travel north for their honeymoon?

“No,” he said. “It’s closed still.

“They thought maybe Costa Rica sounded good.”


Chadron Community Foundation has established a fund to help ranchers who suffered livestock losses in the blizzard: Cattlemen Relief Fund, PO Box 1125, Chadron, NE 69337

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