We see that you have javascript disabled. Please enable javascript and refresh the page to continue reading local news. If you feel you have received this message in error, please contact the customer support team at 1-833-248-7801.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Counting blessings: Western North Dakota ranchers reflect on historic blizzard

The spring storm of 2022 has taken a toll on North Dakota’s farmers and ranchers. We spoke with various livestock producers across the western region of the state on how Snowmageddon has affected them, especially during one of the most pivotal seasons there is for ranchers — calving season.

At the Wasem Red Angus ranch, a group of calves huddle to stay warm on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, in Halliday, North Dakota, during day two of the historic blizzard that blew through North Dakota.
At the Wasem Red Angus ranch, a group of calves huddle to stay warm on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, in Halliday, North Dakota, during day two of the historic blizzard that blew through North Dakota. The Wasems were one of countless farmers and ranchers affected by Snowmageddon in North Dakota, and had to use all the windbreaks and shelters they had possible to protect their herds from the frigid winds and feet of drifting snow.
Contributed / Wasem Red Angus
We are part of The Trust Project.

DICKINSON — All across North Dakota, the inclement weather patterns of last week painted more than a white canvas on the prairie. For ranchers and farmers who rely heavily on Mother Nature’s blessings, the historic April snow storm answered many prayers for moisture and a promising season ahead.

Though the skies are clear and the drifts are beginning to melt, ranchers are still working on getting their herds back to a normal routine. As part of a Snowmageddon recap, The Dickinson Press spoke to three ranchers in western North Dakota who shared their thoughts on the storm of the century.

Richard Angus Ranch

Richard Angus Ranch is a family-operated business, and was in the heart of its calving season with roughly 400 calves altogether on three different ranches — one north of Beach, Sentinel Butte and Belfield.

Emily Richard, who operates the Belfield ranch with her husband Brandon, noted that they were running their tails off, day and night on horseback to save as much of their cattle as possible. They had about 20 to 30 cows calving each day.

“So we were horseback every hour bringing stuff in out of the snow. By the time the storm broke, we ended up having 62 pairs still in the barn, which is maybe a bit tight for space, but they survived,” Emily said. “We lost our fair share, of course. But we saved more than we lost, which is a plus.”

ADVERTISEMENT

A few days leading up to the storm, the Richards built forts, taking all their freestanding panels, windbreaks and calf sheds they had on hand to use as sources of protection.

“... We’re pretty wide open up here, we don’t have a lot of shelter. So if we don’t make it, God only knows where they would have ended up,” Emily said.

JC Farms

Down in Adams County, about 90 minutes southeast from Belfield, Jacki and Jordan Christman own and operate JC Farms. They were near the end of their calving season, with already 300 head of cows calved out. Jacki noted that her husband remembers the 1997 blizzard where an estimated 100,000 cattle, or 10% of North Dakota’s herd, were lost. So they decided to bring the cattle from out in the pastures back toward their shelter belt.

Snow covered Black Angus calves warm up in a barn on Thursday, April 14, 2022, at JC Farms in Adams County, North Dakota.
Snow covered Black Angus calves warm up in a barn on Thursday, April 14, 2022, at JC Farms in Adams County, North Dakota.
Contributed / JC Farms

“I’m really glad we did because I don’t know if they would have been okay out in the pastures,” Jacki said, noting that they had protections from the northwest and northeast that set them up for the directional wind shifts.

At about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jacki was in the middle of checking cows in the corral that were due to calve when the wind and snow began to pick up — Snowmageddon had arrived.

At JC Farms, a cow cleans her newborn calf during the historic blizzard storm that swept through North Dakota from Tuesday, April 12, through Thursday, April 14.
At JC Farms, a cow cleans her newborn calf during the historic blizzard storm that swept through North Dakota from Tuesday, April 12, through Thursday, April 14.
Contributed / JC Farms

Several hours into the storm, the Christmans worked to keep tabs on their expectant cows, relocating them to calving barns.

“We’re fortunate in that way that we didn’t have a bunch of calves to go to the barns. Every day we’d get up and start feeding everything, cleaning out all the old bedding — all the old wet straw — giving them new bedding to lay on and giving them hay,” she said, adding that they also had yearlings to feed and had to push snow to get to them. “So our morning chores, that usually takes us about an hour and a half. It was about a five-hour project due to the snow storm.”

Using a Bobcat, the Christmans worked around the clock going to and from the house to check on their herd. On Friday morning, Jacki doctored two sick calves. Though the storm is over, the wet, cold snow can lead to calves catching pneumonia and spreading it to other newborns, she noted, adding that they’re working on getting the herd pushed out to avoid such an epidemic.

ADVERTISEMENT

Wasem Red Angus

In Halliday, located up in Dunn County, Jolyn and Chris Wasem operate 300 head of cattle on Wasem Red Angus ranch. Like the Richards and Christmans, the Wasems were more than halfway through their calving season.

“I think what saved us the most is we had a really big shelter belt and then we had portable calf shelters that we could move around that shelter belt as the wind changed. Because that was probably the toughest thing to deal with is you’re all set up and think you have everybody where they need to be and then, the wind shifts,” Jolyn said. “And then, your calving shelters are filled with snow and you’re digging calves out because they’re covered in snow… I think we were fairly lucky in the storm just because we were able to do those things.”

A Red Angus calf enjoys the sunshine in a shelter area at Wasem Red Angus ranch after Snowmageddon came to a halt.
A Red Angus calf enjoys the sunshine in a shelter area at Wasem Red Angus ranch after Snowmageddon came to a halt.
Contributed / Wasem Red Angus

So far, the Wasems only lost one calf that was about 1 month old, which is minimal compared to others and what could have been.

“... We did do a lot of prep work for it. But you just do the best you can do with a situation you have and you just pray a lot through it,” Jolyn said.

At Wasem Red Angus ranch in Halliday, North Dakota, cows and their calves huddle near one another during the April blizzard that swept across the state.
At Wasem Red Angus ranch in Halliday, North Dakota, cows and their calves huddle near one another during the April blizzard that swept across the state.
Contributed / Wasem Red Angus

For about three days, the Wasems couldn’t get to their herd bulls because they were 2 miles away and blocked in from the snow. Though the bulls had protection, it’s times like that when “you just have to put your faith in God that’s he’s going to watch over stuff for you when you can’t,” she said.

The calm after the storm

Though every situation is different for each rancher and farmer, Jacki noted that having plenty of hay, straw and wind protections makes a difference.

“... You can’t put 300 head of pairs in barns… So I think the important thing is just to make sure you have windbreaks set up and you have calf shelters, if you can. I don’t care what time of the year it is; we can have blizzards in May. So it’s just important to have that kind of stuff if you have cows even if you’re a May calver, you just need that shelter for them,” she noted.

A herd of Black Angus gather near windbreaks at JC Farms in Adams County during the April snow storm.
A herd of Black Angus gather near windbreaks at JC Farms in Adams County during the April snow storm.
Contributed / JC Farms

With already half of their wheat planted, the Christmans are going to be at a two-week halt before getting back into the fields.

ADVERTISEMENT

“... It would have been nice to come in the rain form, but moisture is moisture at this point. I’ve had people tell me they would rather see a blizzard like this than go through another year of drought and have to sell a bunch of cows and calves,” Jacki said. “So it’ll be nice to see what this is going to bring.”

Like Wasem Red Angus, Jacki provided updates during the storm on her ranch’s JC Farms Facebook page.

“North Dakota is a really big agricultural state and it sure is nice that so many people look out for us and we do appreciate everybody calling and checking in and making sure everybody’s okay,” Jacki said, adding, “And it’s just nice to know that we have people that aren’t necessarily farmers or ranchers that are worried about us.”

All three western North Dakota ranchers noted their optimism with the April storm.

“That’s what I think is kind of amazing sometimes about the ranching community too is we’re faced with what they say is a calf-killing blizzard that’s going to save our cow herd and I just think there’s so much truth to that. Because as hard as it was, we all still think for the most part are grateful to get it because that’ll mean grass because it was looking pretty bad coming into this,” Jolyn noted.

In Stark County, Emily noted that this storm was desperately needed.

“We are really thankful for good help. We are really thankful for good horses. And we’re really thankful for big barns,” she said. “Life was tough during the storm and it’s tough now. We’re dealing with a little bit of sickness and stuff’s not really paired up, so we’re just trying to clean up a little bit there. But life would have been a heck of a lot harder without this storm if the drought continued. So we’re okay sacrificing a few to the moisture gods because I don’t know how much longer we could have lasted in such a severe drought.

“Every time you eat your food, think of the ranchers and farmers that went through this. And just remember us,” Emily said, as the cows mooed in the background.

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
What to read next
The annual Dickinson Food Truck Rodeo will be hosted at an all new location this year, in conjunction with a Farmer’s Market and other foodie opportunities.
During a City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Scott Decker argued in favor of increasing the sales tax as part of a plan to provide property tax relief while boosting funding to various municipal projects.
Kevin A. Dvorak, 35, of Dickinson faces 26 felony charges and is being held on $100,000 bond for allegedly possessing child pornography. He is also accused of peering into a bedroom window to watch and record a child undress.
The Kind Hearts Project is hosting its signature event this Saturday, Sept. 24. The entire community is encouraged to attend, especially parents with young children.