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Ranchers React to Spring Storms

From April 9, 1997 Laramie Daily Boomerang, Laramie, Wyoming

by Elizabeth Jennings, Boomerang Staff Writer

Last weekend’s spring blizzard pounded the Dakotas and northeast Wyoming, where ranchers in the midst of calving season saw big losses. Albany County fared much better, but wet spring storms continue to concern local ranchers.

“We didn’t get the blizzards you did in town,” said Gil Engen, owner of the Flying Heart Ranch, 22 miles west of Laramie. “It stopped at about Twelve-Mile Hill.”

According to Steve Aagard, University of Wyoming and Albany County Cooperative Extension agent, ranches in the northern part of Albany County were hit hardest. “It was worse out there. One rancher lost eight calves.” Ranchers in the far eastern part of Wyoming did even worse, loosing yearling steers in addition to vulnerable calves, according to an Associated Press article.

“The two paramount things in these situations is proper nutrition and shelter,” said Aagard. If newborn calves get their mother’s milk right away, and have protection from wind, they will get enough calories to stay warm.

“Low body temperature can damage the calf, stunt its growth,” said Matt Hoobler, a local ranch hand. Hoobler said that in severe weather conditions, it’s “terribly important” calves are found soon after birth. “Hands need to get out there and help them stand up and get to the milk.”

In very low temperatures, calves may freeze to the ground if not assisted, Hoobler said. “Cows don’t have problems in a warm spring,” he said, “but if they drop a calf in the snow they need help.”

For that reason many ranchers move soon-to-calve cows closer to the ranch buildings. “We watch them constantly,” said Engen.

Dale Robbins, of the Robbins Ranch, agreed. “We’ve got to get them where there’s shelter, and keep an eye on them.”

Shelter can be a stand of willows or sun sheds, said Aagard. “Anything to break the wind. When a chill comes, one of the biggest dangers is illness.”

Calves who survive birth during a cold snap, and even those a few days or weeks old, face pneumonia and other diseases. “It can show up three days later,” Engen said.

To guard against sickness, Engen and other ranchers vaccinate, and try to provide hay as bedding for newborn calves. “They don’t like to lay on the cold ground,” he said.

According to the National Weather Service, another storm front may cover the state with snow beginning Wednesday.

“We faithfully listen to the forecasts,” said Dave Williams, owner of the Flying Y Cattle Company 15 miles southwest of Laramie. “We’re sheltered along the river here,” said Williams. Even so, Williams and his crew will bring the cows yet to give birth into barns or close to the ranch.

Jay Child, a night hand at the X Bar Ranch west of Laramie, said, “We’ll check on them every 45 minutes rather than every hour” during cold weather.

“When we get nice days it’s easy to think that spring is here,” Aagard said. “But Mother Nature can turn her hand us. We just need to pay attention.”

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