Unless you had your head in the sand you were aware the weather over the past 10 days or so was going to be a winter storm to remember and many took steps to prepare for the record-breaking temperatures and up to 15 inches of snow.
While it could have been as simple as this writer fixing a leaking outside faucet or as massive as preparing enough feed and hay for a herd of 700 cows, we each took steps we thought would improve how we would survive the massive storm.
And while I was complaining about dripping my faucets to keep the pipes from freezing, thousands of area farmers and ranchers we trying to keep their livestock watered, fed and then to take on the added challenge of taking care of new-born calves.
“Usually February is a good month for calving, but this storm really caught us,” said east-Lawton cattleman Lance John. “We’ve had storms before but nothing of this magnitude. We go out to chop the ice and as soon as the cattle would get a drink, it would freeze back over. The ice was easily 4 to 5 inches thick.
“It’s been a never-ending job for the past week. We’ve done pretty good, we do our best to catch them when they are calving to get them inside to warm them up but we’ve lost three thus far. You just have to keep going as hard as you can to save the others.”
Of course, with social media now so popular, it’s likely most readers have seen those pictures of calves inside pickup cabs, in front of fireplaces and even on blankets with the youngsters.
“You just have to get them as fast as you can and get them out of the cold,” area farmer/rancher Kim Squires said Thursday as she was preparing another busy day with husband Barry. “From sunrise it’s basically go as fast as you can to get as much ground covered as possible. We don’t have any ponds, so it’s mostly tanks that we’ve tried to winterize.
“We’ve tried tank heaters but those seem to break at the wrong time. We do have a couple of places where we are able to water out of pivots (Irrigation systems) and that helps. We probably have cattle on 13 different pastures, so it takes some time to get all them covered. It’s just non-stop.”
And there are always problems that crop up.
“We entered this season with plenty of hay but when we started putting them on wheat pasture we had some problems with bloating, so we had to start feeding them more, so they’d have something in their stomachs. Now we’re running low on hay and that’s what’s been keeping Barry busy the last couple of days. It looks like we have some that we can get Monday. Things like that happen, you adjust on the fly.”
One thing the Squires did to try and help provide some shelter was put big cotton modules end to end to make a wind break.
“Some of the places we have are right near Fort Cobb (lake) and there is some shelter along those creeks and that helps. We just thought that the modules might work to give them some break from the wind.”
John said you never know when you are going to have to take actions.
“The other night we had a cow calving, so we scrambled to get three big round bales over there to block the wind and make it a little warner for them,” he said, “That’s what I mean by adjusting on the go. I’m out there and my son Seth, who is working with me now, are always out doing something whether it’s feeding or chopping ice.”
Most of the problems come when you have heifers who are having their first calves.
“Those are the ones you’re going to have trouble with and they are sometimes going to need some help,” John said. “You need to catch them as fast as you notice them getting close to that point and be ready. You never know what time of the day or night it’s going to happen.”
While this writer has been safely tucked away at home during this storm, it’s an experience that I’ve face before when I was much younger.
My dad would often keep 30 or 40 heifers each year to serve as replacement stock. We kept them either in our big barn or in a corral right near the house.
When that light would come on in the hallway, I knew what was coming next, dad was ready to go and he needed my help.
When we got to the corral it was quick action all around. My job was to wait for dad to get the small chain around the legs of the calf and then I’d slowly work the hand crank until the big moment.
If it’s not too cold, the cow can handle the rest of the process, but you have to make sure those heifers aren’t going to turn their backs on their calves. Once they figure out where the milk comes from and they get that first meal, your job is over.
However, if the cow balks, then you end up with a bottle calf, something every rancher has dealt with.
That’s where the kids get involved, like little Jhett John who is shown with his bottle ready to feed one of his calves from last season.
What will make all ranchers/famers happy will be the warmer temperatures that are forecasted for the next couple of weeks, a well-earned break for those just needing a few extra hours of sleep.
After that you restock the cattle cubes, hay and fix those balky tank heaters. Hopefully thet won’t be challenged against because after this record-breaker of a storm, we’re all ready for a break.