Please note that my family’s ranch is in central Wyoming. We received about 2 feet of heavy wet snow but the storm did not affect us the same way that if affected eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota and Nebraska. We lost one cow in the storm. Some ranchers in South Dakota and eastern Wyoming lost over 50% of their herds (cattle and sheep). Many are still looking for cattle and sheep that wandered in the storm. Horses and other wildlife were lost as well. My family spent 10 days following the storm locating, feeding, gathering and moving our cattle. They were cold, tired and sore. And incredibly thankful that we were able to locate all our cattle in fairly decent shape. At the same time our hearts were breaking for our fellow ranchers to the east. If you would like information on benefits being organized or would like to read blog posts from those more severely affected please go to the ranching links page.
October 3rd – When I checked in with Dad he said, “we’re suppose to get quite a snowfall tonight”. Now, with all due respect to all meteorologists out there, we were a little skeptical. I mean it can be tricky to predict the weather around our neck of the woods. Sometimes Casper can get a foot or so of snow and out at the ranch we don’t get a flake. So, we’ve kind learned to take weather predictions with a grain of salt. The cattle were all still in the mountain, which was pretty typical of this time of year. Looking back at the records, the earliest we had ever brought them home to winter pastures was Oct 25 and the latest was Dec 5th. They had been checked on earlier in the week and were all looking healthy and still had good feed. So, all was well on the western front.
Oct 4th – It was in fact “quite a snowfall”. A couple of feet of heavy wet snow fell taking out electricity for most folks and breaking lots of trees and taking down power lines. There wasn’t much chance of getting anywhere safely that day so everyone started making plans and getting equipment and supplies ready for the next day.
Oct 5th – The sun came out and work began.
They – note:they includes Dad, Mom, Casey, Uncle Jim and some days Jamie, Chad, Kim and Jason and a variety of friends and neighbors – headed up to the mountain with three pickups loaded with hay and the tractor to pull the pickups out when they got stuck. And get stuck they did.
They fed all the cattle they could find but were missing about 3/4 of the herd.
It was a sun up to way past sundown kind of day…..followed by several more of the same.
Oct 6 – They headed back to mountain with more hay and snowmobiles. They needed the snowmobiles to get to the farthest corners of the summer pastures, in order to try to locate the all the missing cattle, so they would know where to ride to the next day. They found a handful here and there but a lot were still unaccounted for.
Oct 7th – They head back, this time with horse trailers and horses.
They finally made it, unloaded and mounted up. Horseback riding in this kind of weather is really not a lot of fun, for a couple of reasons. First, there is the tricky decision of how to dress. You want to be warm enough because most of the day you will be miles away from the pickup. However, if you overdress there will be no place to ditch your heavy coat and even if there was about 10 minutes after you ditch it, the wind is bound to come up and then you’ll be freezing again. Plus, it’s really hard to get on a horse when you’re wearing coveralls and a heavy coat. Picture the Michelin Man trying try to climb on a horse, it’s just not that graceful. And then there are overboots. If you wear them, it kills your knees because it causes you to hold your leg at a slightly odd angle all day but if you don’t wear them, your toes get so cold you can’t feel them anymore, which wouldn’t be that bad except that up until you lose feeling in them it’s really painful. You basically have to get up in the morning and ask yourself, do I want to be too hot, too cold or in some sort of physical pain? And usually it just ends up being all three at some point during the day. Moving cattle in winter weather was never my favorite.
But the really tricky part was that it was slick and muddy and the snow was hiding all the badger holes and cut banks, making it all a bit more treacherous than normal.
But they started locating them, one little bunch at a time.
Oct 8th thru Oct 10th – They repeated the same thing that they did on Oct 7th. A rancher’s version of the movie Groundhog Day, except that each day there was a little less snow and a lot more mud. The pastures are large and there are draws, canyons, brush and the occasional bunch of quaker or pine trees, so there are plenty of places for the cattle to hide out. All that, plus the snow and mud, made for some long days and late lunches.
Oct 11th – The parties over and it’s time for the cows to come home. The cows have all been accounted for and moved to the end of the pasture closest to the gate that leads to the trail home. From this gate to “home” is around 35 miles. In good weather conditions the cows can walk it in about 2 days. This time though…..it takes a little longer. It takes about 4 days this time around. The cows were slower, partly because they were a little tired out from the storm, partly because of the snow and mud they had to wade through and partly because some still had calves with them. We had already shipped our steer calves (these are male calves that have been castrated) but had not shipped or weaned (that’s where you separate the cows from the calves) the heifer calves. The cows that still have calves with them always move a little slower – think of trying to get through the grocery store with toddlers and you’ll get the idea.
Stinking Creek usually doesn’t have much, if any, water in it this time of year. It was a lot trickier to cross this time. But everyone made it over safe and sound. Video recorded and provided by Kim Furnival and she remained a horseback during filming, proving once again, that she is a cowgirl of many talents.
Oct 14th – By the end of the day, home sweet home! They finally arrive safe and sound.
Oct 15th – They spend the day working off the heifer calves and the strays. During the storm, snow and probably a few elk and a few cows, tore down a few fences which meant that some of our cows got mixed up with the neighbors and vice versa. So, all that needed to be sorted out and we needed to take the heifer calves and separate them from their moms. They are plenty old enough and their moms are carrying another calf so they need the break.
They put them all in the corral and let the cows out the gate into the pasture and keep the calves and the strays in the corral. Then they can load the strays up to take back to the neighbors and then move the heifer calves to their own pasture.
So that’s a quick re-cap of what went on at our place after Atlas. In a typical year it would take about 5 days total to bring the cows home. So the snow doubled the work. After getting our cattle home and settled in, there were neighbors to help do the same. And yes, I am feeling a little bit guilty sitting here in Minnesota typing away at my computer safely out of the elements but I’m sure they will all eventually get even with me….they always do.