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Recent storms impact cattle producers

Rural residents cope as power outages linger

Submitted Photo A “fort” consisting of, from left, a 32-foot gooseneck flatbed trailer, a 42-foot semi flatbed trailer and a 24-foot gooseneck livestock trailer, provided shelter for calves during the recent April blizzard. Shown April 12, the livestock trailer and the row of straw bales served as protection for the flatbeds to keep snow and wind out.

Rural residents in southern Ward County hunkered down for the long haul as they entered the fourth day of a power outage Tuesday afternoon.

Dwayne Brandt of Ryder said 70 utility poles were down to the east of his farm home.

“We aren’t going to have power anytime soon,” he said.

Verendrye Electric Cooperative reported Monday, with about 300 poles down in its system at the time, that it hopes to have all meters back in operation by early next week.

Gov. Doug Burgum on Tuesday declared a statewide emergency for flooding and widespread utility infrastructure damage caused by a severe winter storm last weekend. The governor also declared a disaster for areas impacted by record snowfall during the historic blizzard April 12-14 based on local costs incurred for snow removal.

Submitted Photo Cattle belonging to Darren and Dwayne Groninger of Douglas form a tight group to battle the extreme elements during the April 13 blizzard.

Burgum plans to request presidential disaster declarations for both events to unlock federal assistance to help pay for snow removal and infrastructure repairs, including numerous downed utility poles in western counties that left thousands of customers without power.

To keep pipes from freezing and food from thawing during the outage, Brandt said, he hooked a motorhome up to one house and a light plant to another house on the farm where he and his wife and their daughter and son-in-law live. It was 66 degrees in his house Tuesday afternoon as he monitored the temporary electrical arrangements.

“It kind of makes you appreciate the way things normally are,” Brandt said.

Darren Groninger of Douglas has been without power since Saturday.

His indoor home temperature fell to 40 degrees, although he was able to raise it to about 55 degrees after family members provided him with a propane heater rated for indoor use.

“It wasn’t bad when I was sleeping because I could just add covers to my bed,” Groninger said. “But when I would change from my pajamas into my work clothes to go and check the cows, it was awfully chilly.”

It has been a difficult calving season for Groninger and his brother, Dwayne. They’ve had water where they don’t want it and no water where they do.

Lack of electricity cut off North Prairie Rural Water and rendered wells for watering cattle inoperable. They used a gas-fueled pump to fill a tank from a slough to truck water to their livestock until North Prairie was able to restore service Monday.

“The snow piled up around our barns, just like it does any obstacle or building,” Groninger said. “Normally, if the snow wasn’t there, we do have the ground sloped so that the water will run away from the barns. Well, many of our barns, the water has been running off, hitting the snowbank and ice outside and then it kind of funnels it underneath the wall and into the barn. A couple of our barns are pretty soggy and there’s a little bit of standing water in some lower areas in the barn.”

They consider themselves fortunate to have fewer cows calving than usual because of a decision to sell off a number of cattle last year due to lack of grass and water during the drought.

“If we would have our normal numbers of livestock, it would have been much worse for us,” Groninger said.

Still, they ran out of barn space for about 40 cow-calf pairs during the mid-April blizzard. The solution was to build a “fort” using a 42-foot flatbed semi trailer and 32-foot gooseneck flatbed trailer, protected by another livestock trailer and straw bales. The cows were able to find some relief from the wind and calves could shelter under the trailers.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service advises ranchers to expect a delay in getting cattle into pastures this spring. Grass development and growth will be slowed because of the cooler-than-normal weather coming on top of the 2021 drought.

Groninger estimates the delayed spring will extend the amount of hay that ranchers need for their livestock by about a month.

“Hay is at a premium. It’s very expensive and it’s a big added cost to the rancher now to feed these cattle another month,” he said. “On the flip side of that, I am just jumping with joy that we have moisture in our pastures and our hay crops and our grain crops. We should be set up for a pretty good year.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Brandt.

“The moisture is good because we were pretty dry. Last year, we only had three inches of moisture during the whole growing season,” Brandt said.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA) and North Dakota Stockmen’s Foundation (NDSF) have teamed up to support the state’s cattle ranchers, who have suffered from widespread livestock death and illness to damaged buildings and fences. Feed resources are also low, with Blizzard Haley and last weekend’s storm coming on the heels of significant statewide drought.

The nonprofit organizations are launching the Hope After Haley Disaster Relief Fund. The NDSA and NDSF have kickstarted the relief fund with their $40,000 initial contribution and are inviting others to join them by contributing to the effort.

Monetary contributions to the disaster relief fund can be made by check to the NDSF, with “Hope After Haley” written in the memo, at 407 S. Second St., Bismarck, ND 58504, or credit card gifts can be made online at https://app.givingheartsday.org/#/charity/1576.

The gifts will be distributed to North Dakota cattle ranchers later this spring through an application and nomination process. A selection committee comprised of fellow ranchers will make selections and distribute the funds to those most in need.

Application and nomination forms for the disaster relief will be available for cattle ranchers sometime in May at www.ndstockmen.org.

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