As I sit at my desk, my heart feels as if it has been torn in two. For the past week, the news cycles have been filled with stories about our 17% shut down of the federal government, about the abuses that have been heaped on the American public through the selective implementation of that shut down, the partisan bickering over who is at fault for this shut down (and I have news for everyone—it takes two to tango, and in this case, not only are the parties tangoing this country into a frenzy, but the person who should have the sign Harry Truman had on his desk about where the buck stopped is doing precious little to get the parties to talk to one another), yet it isn’t the shut down which has torn my heart. Rather it is the news we aren’t being told of the destruction of herds of livestock and horses which perished in the blizzard that roared through parts of Wyoming and South Dakota a week ago. Most people have only heard of this storm and the destruction it brought through Facebook and the sharing of local news stories about the disaster. (http://dawnwink.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/the-blizzard-that-never-was-and-its-aftermath-on-cattle-and-ranchers/)
This storm was epic in its proportions and the destruction it has brought to the ranching community. Much as the perfect storm conditions existed in the winter of 1886-87, this storm has delivered a crippling body blow to the cattle industry. In 1886-87, most of Wyoming and the Dakotas were unusually dry. It started to snow in November of that year and it didn’t stop snowing (from some local accounts) until May of the following spring. When it wasn’t snowing, the heavens were dropping freezing rain onto the snow, crusting the snow with inches thick ice. And, it was cold, the kind of cold that locals called “freeze-eye cold.”
Just as in 1886-87, this recent storm came on the heels of an unusually dry summer. It started out with twelve hours of driving, pounding rain that changed to snow—a heavy, wet, suffocating snow that fell to almost four feet deep in places. And, it was driven by winds that at times gusted to over 60 miles an hour. This storm caught the ranchers off guard. It was worse, much worse, than had been originally predicted.
Cattle and horses were still on summer pastures. Typically, cattle aren’t moved to winter pastures with more protection from the elements until late September or early October. Neither the cattle nor the horses had put on a full winter coat yet. When this storm hit, all the ranchers could do was hunker down and pray that it wasn’t going to be as bad as they were fearing it would be.
It was worse. So much worse. The losses are the make you sick to your stomach, rage at the heavens and weep kind of losses. The vast majority of ranchers view these animals not as a cash crop, but as living, breathing creatures that they need to take care of and protect. Yes, the reasoning for that care is based on the bottom line, but it doesn’t change the fact that most of the ranchers really do care about their livestock. You can’t spend a lifetime breeding any kind of animal for the best possible combination of genetics and not come to view them as more than just a herd of cattle. You can’t spend eighteen hour days, most of the time for all three hundred and sixty five days of the year, taking care of these animals and not form an attachment to them. You can’t be out in the freezing cold assisting a cow to have her calf, out in the blistering heat to make sure water is available, or bottle feeding a calf that has been orphaned or pulled off the mother because she can’t nurse it without growing to care deeply about these animals. (http://realamericancowboymagazine.com/2013/04/17/ryan-mcconnel-on-the-pbr-comeback-trail/)
As someone who writes western historical romances, I have a soft spot in my heart for modern day cattle ranchers and have a tiny inkling of what they endure on a daily basis to make the ends meet. Most ranchers are not rich. Most walk a razor’s edge between solvency and literally losing the ranch. This storm may push some of these ranchers over that edge.
I’m asking the readers of my blog to share these links. Make others aware of what has happened. At the end of the linked article for Real American Cowboy are links to help these folks out. If you can, great. I’ll say “thank you” in advance.