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Heavy Calf, Cow Losses

Huge livestock losses in North Dakota from heavy snow and flooding last winter show that ranchers are not immune to Mother Nature’s fury.

Emily Tescher-Johnston, a livestock agent with the Ward County extension service based in Minot, North Dakota, said that a perfect storm of circumstances that began last summer led to the loss of 72,000 calves and 19,000 mature cattle in the state worth an estimated $55 million, according to the latest tally.

Poor haying conditions which led to inadequate supplies and inferior quality left North Dakota’s 900,000-head cow herd in a vulnerable position going into the winter, which saw a staggering 130 inches of snowfall – almost 12 feet – pile up over the winter months as temperatures plunged to -40F at times.

“It just seemed like every weather front that went through found us,” said Tescher-Johnston, whose own farm was flooded this spring. “That’s the way it happens sometimes.”

Early calving in February and March was especially hard hit, then flooding made a horrific situation even worse, she said.

“It was everything from aborting calves in mid-gestation up to losing them in the flood waters a week after they were born,” said Tescher-Johnston. “It’s staggering to hear those numbers.”

Productivity losses from frozen testicles in the bull population added to the hurt. Ranchers buried by the enormous amounts of snow were unable to get to their hay with their tractors, or even clear off a feeding ground to provide bedding straw. Some had to hire large snow-moving equipment at significant cost, she added.

An estimated 2,500 sheep and 180 horses were also lost.

Minnesota and South Dakota also saw livestock losses due to bad weather and flooding. No compensation amounts have been finalized.

The losses in North Dakota were the worst since 1997, when 91,458 cows and calves were lost in spring blizzards and flooding, according to a report in the Grand Forks Herald. [email protected]

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