Months after blizzard, Heifers for S.D. still giving back, putting smiles on ranchers’ faces

Heather Hamilton-Maude | Caputa, S.D.

Earlier this week my husband and I received a phone call from a “406” area code while driving home from a weekend spent hauling pairs to summer pasture and attending a wedding. Lori Linger of Heifers for South Dakota was on the other end of the line, kindly asking if we would provide her with some information regarding our losses in the Atlas Blizzard, and if we might be interested in receiving a few of the bred heifers being shipped out to their new owners this week.

What do you say? On one hand my heart raced in an overwhelming amount of gratitude and thankfulness for what these people were doing as my mind recalled those cows we lost last fall and still miss this spring. As a rancher, there is no greater gift than a good heifer, and nothing so humbling as being on the receiving end of such immense generosity as has been poured through the Heifers for South Dakota program and into the western plains over the past several months.

But, on the other hand there is a deeply ingrained independent streak in my husband and I that goes right along with the mindset we all have that unless we earned it we don’t deserve it. And we had not earned such a gift. We went through that storm right along with everyone else, and we know which neighbor’s ear tags we counted the most of in the deceased cattle – far more than we counted of our own. Thoughts that we are alright, we will survive without donated heifers, and there has to be someone else who needs them to much greater degree than we do also ran through my head. While incredibly supportive of and grateful for the Heifers of South Dakota program, we never intended to be on the receiving end.

As I sat there in that pickup, on that warm, sun-filled afternoon six months after Atlas rocked our world, the parts of the Bible that say you shall give and you shall receive, and that there is a time for giving and a time for receiving kept entering my mind. After a short discussion and prayer, we agreed that if they called back after presenting our and other producer’s information to their selection committee, we would accept the gift.

Fast forward a couple days and a second phone call confirmed they would like to give us multiple head, and could we come to the feedlot and pick them up at 6 p.m. on Thursday? While driving our new “girls” home Thursday night, all of whom are originally from Virginia, it all kind of hit. The agriculture way of life is going to be alright. Yes, we are facing a lot of challenges and adversaries, there are people who don’t like or understand us, and the weather can be awful. But, riding along behind us in our horse trailer were multiple examples of the caliber of people backing our industry, and they are unmatched.

As soon as Ty and Rosalie Linger put word out after the blizzard, people responded with an incredible show of heart and giving. Today more than 1,100 animals have been donated through the Heifers for South Dakota program, totaling well over $2.5 million worth of livestock. Monetary donations have been received from every U.S. state and multiple foreign countries. The cost to house and grow the heifers in a feedlot was covered, all vet supplies used were free of charge, semen was donated to breed them and three AI technicians volunteered their time and skillset to do the breeding.

We, along with several others, also received an outpouring of kindness, love and support outside the Heifers for South Dakota program that was equally humbling and bolstering. Members of our family helped in countless ways, a North Dakota community donated an entire Thanksgiving feast to us, and my hometown provided Christmas baskets. The man who owns the hotel where we stay each fall while weaning and selling calves tore up my check last year after hearing we were among those hit in the storm, telling us the room was on him. My siblings sold us cattle at rock bottom prices, and told us to pay for them when we could, to help us rebuild our numbers.

I have never doubted that the agriculture community is made of exceptional people, but never in my lifetime have I seen it put on display in such fashion as the Atlas Blizzard caused. I am so proud and thankful to be part of today’s farming and ranching family, which knows no boundaries. We have seen so much of God’s love poured out through His people in the last six months I half expect us to glow. He has truly turned a natural disaster into a showcase of what can be done by a group of people who believe in Him. As Ty Linger noted when we picked our heifers up, it was God at work and he was just along for the ride. He then comically made a gesture as though hanging on for his life, and noted that the ride hadn’t been smooth and slow, but a fast, avalanche-like trip.

My generation, the “young kids” in agriculture, hadn’t been through something like this while in the driver’s seat of an operation, at least not in this area. But we have now, and we will never forget the standard set by our peers, parents and grandparents of how you help those in need. We have so much more than we did before the storm hit to constantly remind us of the good that can come out of a terrible situation, foremost in our minds this morning being our new bunch of bred heifers.

Thank you to everyone who pulled us up, showed us such grace and kindness, and gave so selflessly of yourselves on our behalf. We still aren’t sure what to say to genuinely convey all the emotions we feel being on the receiving end, but someday we will return the favor. When the time comes, we’ll walk out and pick the best we have and send it to you, and we hope you are willing to receive just as we have, and that it restores your spirit in ranching and humanity as you have ours. May God continue to bless our way of life and the people who make so special. ❖