The year was 1997. Christmas was right around the corner, and I was ten years old. I was in the house with my mom and two sisters. As tradition, we would spend a whole weekend decorating the house for the holiday season. We decked out the tree, wrapped garland around the railings, hung lights on the porch, and wrapped gifts for family and friends. Mom gave all of us girls jobs to keep us busy decorating while she made holiday treats. Later, we would all gather in the kitchen to decorate sugar cookies.
There was only one damper on this holiday spirit—Dad always knocked on the door needing chore help, and I was usually the prime target. That meant putting the last of the decorations on hold, donning double socks, snow pants, coat, warm boots, mittens, and a hat and heading outside to help my dad. Together, we would feed hay, grind feed, check water tanks, and take care of the calves before the next big snow hit.
In 1997, a big snow certainly did hit the state of South Dakota. This winter is so infamous in our state’s history that people still wear baseball caps with the slogan, “I survived the Blizzard of ‘97”. For my family, we were snowed in our house for seven days. As a result, my sisters and I had to skip a full week of school. Most kids would have rejoiced at the thought of missing out on so much school to play in the snow, but my reality was much different than snow angels and snowball fights.
Instead of a warm, inviting holiday season, we had no electricity and no heat. We warmed up soup over a makeshift stove of candles and a cookie sheet, and my sisters and I slept in the same bed at night to stay warm. The worst part of this experience was the chores. My little sisters were too young to handle the weather conditions, so Mom, Dad and I would hold hands and trudge down our long driveway to the farm to do the chores. We rose before dark to start scooping out the bunks that had drifted in from the night before. Snow banks as tall as the fences themselves, our job took until noon just to complete the morning chores. As soon as morning duties were done, we would head to the house to put on warm gloves and go outside only a few short hours later to scoop out the feed bunks once more.
I remember being so cold that I buried myself into a hay feeder and cried because my fingers and toes hurt so badly. It was there, in that hay feeder, that I learned a very important lesson about agriculture. My mom gave me a hug as we rested for a moment from scooping the heavy, wet snow.
She chipped off the frozen tears from my rosy cheeks, and she said, “Mandy, this is what animal welfare is. So often, activists try to ruin our way of life because they want to protect the animals. What they don’t see is you and me, out in the cold, risking our lives to protect our cattle. We have to sacrifice our needs for the needs of our livestock. Don’t ever forget how special you are for doing that.”
I’ll never forget that winter. The blizzard of 1997 killed hundreds of thousands of cattle in its wake. Later, as I watched the news with my parents and heard the reports of more cattle deaths in South Dakota, I was so proud that my family had saved every single animal on our farm. That is the greatest sense accomplishment I have ever felt, and I have held onto the lessons learned during that blizzard my entire life.
As the holiday season approaches, be thankful for your many precious gifts. More importantly, be reminded of the good work you do as a person in agriculture. We make great sacrifices in order to feed God’s children. As animal rights activists push legislation down our throats to change the face of food production, let’s not ever forget the producers that know the true meaning of animal welfare and proper animal husbandry practices.