Cattlemen in the Plains will be dreaming about a white Christmas for quite some time it appears. Back-to-back blizzards during the Christmas holidays stranded thousands of cattle in the Central Plains with snow 3-ft. deep and drifts 10- to 15-ft. high in places. And forecasters are predicting more snow this weekend.
Affected areas include Southeast Colorado, Northeast New Mexico, the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, and parts of Nebraska and Kansas.
In Colorado, helicopters airlifted 70-80 tons of hay to stranded cattle, but high winds forced a halt to relief efforts Thursday afternoon. The Colorado Division of Emergency Management estimates there are around 340,000 cattle in the seven Southeastern Colorado counties hardest-hit by the storms, but an accurate count of the losses won't be known until the snow melts enough to allow access to pastures.
Similar conditions exist in Northeast New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle, with heavy snow and high drifts thwarting efforts to get feed and water to cattle, some in large and remote pastures.
In Nebraska, ice was a bigger problem than snow in many parts of the state, while the western feedyard area got snow and wind. Mike Fitzgerald with Nebraska Cattlemen tells BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly there wasn't a problem with stranded cattle, but the winter conditions made it very difficult for producers to get to their cattle with feed and water.
"One guy told me the (corn) stalks his cattle were on was like a frozen lake," Fitzgerald says. The cattle had a hard time standing up, the cattleman had a hard time standing up and the ice made the stalks inaccessible to the cattle.
Conditions in Kansas are similar, with the National Guard using military vehicles to deliver feed to cattle. Warm weather the past several days has melted some of the snow. Like Nebraska, Kansas cattlemen aren't experiencing cattle-isolation problems like producers elsewhere in the region, but with nearly 3 ft. of snow in parts of the state, access to pastures has been difficult.
Several relief efforts have been established. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has activated its relief program. Those wishing to donate hay, trucking, equipment use, or money to the affected cattlemen can call 866-BEEF-USA (233-3872).
The Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association (OCA) has established the Panhandle Ranch Rescue Fund to help purchase feed. Cash donations can be sent to OCA at 2500 Exchange Avenue, Oklahoma City, OK, 73108.
The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association is accepting cash, checks and credit card donations for relief efforts. Contact the group at 789 Sherman Street, Suite 200, Denver, CO, 80203 or call 303- 318-0447.
The Nebraska Cattlemen organization has established a hay exchange hot line. Call 308-762-3005 for more info.
-- Burt Rutherford