Mother Nature is taking a toll on farmers and ranchers, with wildfires in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona and harsh wintry conditions in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency on Friday, citing extreme and exceptional drought in 52 counties. The area is well below normal moisture levels. Cumulative precipitation totals for the past six months show that no county in northwest Oklahoma has received more than 1.5 inches of rainfall, with average area precipitation being around 20 inches. Conditions have been ripe for a fire.
Dana Bay with the Woodward County Oklahoma State University Extension said at least two-thirds of Dewey County had been consumed by the Rhea Fire and no less than 50 families had lost their homes. According to Oklahoma Forestry Services, fires had consumed more than 300,000 acres in the region which relies on its winter wheat to feed livestock.
“Hay is the number-one need right now,” said Bay. “Ranchers that were able to save their cattle but lost grass and hay of their own are in desperate need of hay to sustain those animals.”
Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation arranged a wildfire relief fund for donations of hay, supplemental livestock feed, fencing supplies and milk replacer for calves that lost their mothers. Fundraising efforts are underway via Oklahoma Farming and Ranching Foundation and Oklahoma Farmers Union Foundation.
It was the opposite extreme in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and the Dakotas, where farmers experienced ice and record-breaking snowfall. Winter Storm Xanto dumped 33 inches on hardest-hit Amherst, Wis. and sent farmers and ranchers back into winter mode. Snowfall began Friday night, leaving eight to 12 foot drifts in some areas.
Adam Kuczer, who sits on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation board of directors, said he hopes it’s a once in a lifetime storm. While his Shawano County farm did not apparently suffer any storm damage, managing his 400 head of cattle was challenging amid the blowing snow.
“My main concern was being able to get them feed and some sort of comfort,” Kuczer said. “The animals have had enough. I could see they were getting tired from standing. They weren’t bedding down in the barn at all. They were just staying huddled.”
During most of the snowstorm, temperatures hovered just around the freezing point. The resulting heavy, wet snow caused many barns to collapse, leaving herds of animals without shelter. The snow had tapered off to flurries by Monday, allowing producers to provide fresh bedding for livestock and giving the animals a chance to dry off. Cattlemen are now on the lookout for illness and other stress factors.
Comprehensive damage assessments have not yet begun. And with more snow in the forecast, it may be several weeks before the full extent of the damages can be calculated.
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