Massive Xanto blizzard strikes heart of ranch country
Ranchers looking forward to warmer weather and green grass were in for a shock when a massive storm, dubbed Xanto, struck 17 midwestern states last weekend. “This storm had everything in it including rain, snow, hail, sleet, freezing temperatures, wind and thunder,” Morrill County rancher Naomi Loomis writes in her Circle L Ranch blog.
The brunt of the storm in Nebraska was in the western and central part of the state where 14 inches of snow fell in Newport and Mullen. Eleven inches fell in the Valentine area. In Colorado, the eastern part of the state was hit hard with more than 10 inches falling near Julesburg.
The wind added to the deteriorating conditions of the storm closing major roads, highways and interstates in western and central Nebraska and eastern Colorado. It knocked down power lines, and caused dozens of accidents. “The strong wind aspect of the storm, in lieu of snow, can lead to power outages and property damage over a broad area of the plains,” AccuWeather senior storm warning meteorologist Rich Putnam reported.
Meteorologists tried to prepare the public for what was about to happen, issuing winter storm and blizzard warnings. Weather Underground reported a strong mid- to upper-level jet stream disturbance that was expected to drop into the northern and central Rockies before becoming a strong surface low-pressure system in Kansas and Nebraska. “When the storm blew in, it rained all night. I could hear it coming off our metal shed,” Loomis said. By 10 a.m. the next morning, what started as rain with some thunder turned into large snowflakes filled with moisture. “I was thankful for all the moisture coming down,” Loomis said.
“The storm started Friday afternoon with drizzle and rain,” said Kristian Rennert of Rennert Charolais of Elm Creek, Neb. “It turned into snow that evening. When severe winds started, it turned into a complete blizzard with over 50 mph winds. The blizzard lasted over 24 hours with high winds and blowing snow. It’s hard to know how much snow actually fell here. There were spots with bare ground and other places with 4-foot drifts,” he said.
Ranchers hurried to get their livestock to safer areas before the storm. “We had a few cows that were close to calving,” Rennert said. “We put two expecting mothers in the shed along with two pairs who calved on Friday when the weather started. We moved pairs down by the river where they are on grass and we fed the cows. There are calf sheds, wind breaks and tree piles the pairs can shelter behind. Two old cone tops from grain bins also provide shelter for the calves. We have trees along the river to help slow down the wind.”
Loomis said she and her husband, Cody, talked about what the storm could potentially do, and developed a plan. “Cody decided to lock all the heavy cows in a windbreak area close to the barn,” she said. “All the pairs were relocated and fed in a deep valley protected from the wind. By feeding them there, they are more likely to bed down their calves and won’t drift with the storm causing the calves to get lost.”
As the blizzard raged into Saturday, Rennert said they unrolled round bales for the youngest pairs so they could bed down in the straw. “We checked the pairs throughout the day and night when it was storming really hard,” he said. “We had a young calf that turned sick and was chilled in a drift. We picked him up and my wife helped dry the calf. We left him in the shop overnight until the storm passed. At home, we had corn stalk bales stacked so that our yearling bulls, herd sires and other pairs could get behind them and away from the wind. Blocking the wind is key to helping the livestock weather storms. We had a cow with very young twins we kept in the shed. We also have a creep gate so the young calves could go into the shed,” Rennert said. “We cleaned the manure out and bedded it down to help keep the calves from getting scours. It’s a lot of work, but it paid off greatly as we didn’t lose any calves during the storm.”
The key at the Circle L Ranch was to make sure all the livestock had some sort of protection from the high winds. When the storm was over, the Loomis family felt blessed that the cattle fared so well. “I tell you what, seeing your calves and cows standing upright is such a good sight,” Loomis said. “They were all exhausted, but all upright. Even the heavies held their babies in. We fed them fresh hay and looked all around the hills (to make sure they were all accounted for).”
After a storm like Xanto, ranchers vigilantly keep watch over their cattle for signs of sickness from weathering the cold, wet conditions. “We have been watching the calves closely since the storm, keeping an eye out for pneumonia and scours,” Rennert said. “We have had to treat a few calves for pneumonia, but we feel very fortunate to have come through the storm without any losses. A friend told me he lost 12 calves during the storm, mainly because they were most likely trampled. It’s important to have areas where the calves can get in away from the cows.”
HELP FROM USDA
To help producers cope with losses they sustained from Xanto, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Nebraska Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Nancy Johner says disaster assistance programs are available. “The recent blizzard may have caused losses for farmers and ranchers in our state,” Johner said. “Natural disasters such as blizzards are unavoidable, but USDA has strong safety-net programs to help producers get back on their feet.”
“FSA can assist farmers and ranchers who lost livestock, fences or eligible trees, bushes and vines as a result of a natural disaster,” according to a USDA press release. “FSA administers a suite of safety-net programs to help producers recover from eligible losses, including the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-raised Fish program and the Tree Assistance Program. Detailed information on all of these disaster assistance programs can be found online at: fsa.usda.gov/disaster.”
An Emergency Conservation program is also available that provides funding and technical assistance for farmers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disaster. “Producers located in counties that receive a primary or contiguous disaster designation are eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them recover from production and physical losses,” accoring to the press release. ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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