Deputy State Veterinarian Beth Carlson hadn’t heard many reports of significant livestock losses by Monday afternoon from a Sunday blizzard. But that wasn’t surprising — even finding a parking spot at the North Dakota Capitol building was a struggle because of the snow still blanketing much of the state, she said.
Carlson had heard rumors of sleep-deprived people working around the clock to keep animals alive and dry, but she had yet to hear anything about North Dakota producers losing large numbers of animals to the Sunday storm. Most people were still digging out on Monday, making it a little early to do any tallying.
Ranchers likely were more prepared for this storm than a storm that struck statewide on April 5, 1997, dropping 15.2 inches of snow on Bismarck. More than 90,000 animals died in that storm, part of a vicious winter in which more than 100,000 animals were killed by the elements. The 1997 blizzard was one of those sneaky April storms that seemed as likely to stay rain as turn to snow.
There was no doubt about Sunday’s storm’s intentions. It was snow — albeit wet, heavy snow — all the way. Blizzard conditions can be deadly for cattle for numerous reasons. In the 1997 blizzard, some animals became disoriented, walked on drifts over fences, Carlson said. Some ended up falling through ice, some couldn’t find food.
Carlson said many ranchers calve out their cows beginning in April — to avoid the very conditions that struck on Sunday. One concern may be that producers who don’t plan on having calves in the winter may not have as much shelter available for the little ones.
Blizzards can be particularly dangerous for newborn calves. Carlson said snow at 20 degrees actually is easier to deal with than snow at 30 degrees. A newborn calf will get more chilled in a puddle than in a drift of dry snow, Carlson said. If a cow doesn’t get a calf up and cleaned off, it may not recover.
But even prepared producers may have to deal with the after-effects of the storm, as the wet conditions may lead to future illness.
The wet, muddy conditions destined to follow a spring snowstorm cause plenty of problems for cattle producers. Carlson said calves in such conditions are more susceptible to pneumonia and scours.
The wet conditions won’t be all bad for agriculture in North Dakota, though. As of Thursday, 64.29 percent of North Dakota was experiencing some amount of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Abeling said the driest part of the state — the southwest — received the least snow, and no one storm can cure a drought. But every little bit helps.
“It won’t cure the drought, but certainly it will mitigate it somewhat,” Abeling said.
The next storm expected to hit the area likely will drop the most precipitation in Wyoming, South Dakota and Minnesota, though the southern James River Valley could get several more inches of snow, Abeling said. Accumulations are expected to be light in the rest of the state in that storm, likely to hit in the next three to four days, he said.