Drought conditions had already reduced New Salem rancher Lee Henke’s hay harvest to only 50 bales with which to feed his 130 cows and calves. But that would not be the only thing to go wrong in the Henkes’ lives.
It was while he was out gathering the meager hay crop that Lee Henke was run over with his sickle mower, cracking six ribs. He was released from the hospital 10 days ago.
“I’m a nurse; I don’t know how to do (farm work),” Claire Henke said.
In a fix, the Henkes swallowed their pride and asked for help.
North Dakota-based nonprofit Farm Rescue, which helps farmers and ranchers in need, is coming to the aid of ranchers affected by drought, transporting hay free of charge. The organization also is accepting donated or discounted hay.
Farm Rescue has 90 ranchers who have applied for help to date, said Dan Erdmann, marketing communications officer.
Claire Henke said Farm Rescue has been easy to work with, stepping in when they heard her husband’s story.
Lee Henke’s older tractor had to be started from the outside, between the tires. Not realizing it was in gear, he jumped beneath the tractor when it started to roll to keep from being crushed by the large back wheels. But he was still hurt by the sickle.
“He had tire tracks across his back,” Claire Henke said, and the machine drug him 10 to 15 feet.
He jumped up to chase the still moving tractor as it went into a ravine. After driving himself home from the wreck, he would end up spending four of his days in the hospital on oxygen.
Lee Henke works the ranch mostly on his own, with some help from his 18-year-old son. He also works for the North Dakota Department of Transportation to support his family and the many foster children he and his wife have cared for.
Claire Henke said her husband is walking now but she can tell he’s still in pain when he takes a deep breath. It will be another couple weeks before he can run the farm machinery, he can’t lift anything and it will be a couple months before he can go back to work at NDDOT.
Meanwhile, Claire Henke said they’re expecting to have to spend large amounts of money on hay on top of the hospital bills. The pastures are all eaten down and they’ll likely have to start feeding hay in September rather than the usual November.
“So getting hay here is a priority,” she said.
Claire Henke said their neighbors have been very helpful, "but neighbors can’t drive all the way to Minnesota to pick up hay."
With the help of Farm Rescue, the Henkes are receiving donated hay and a discount on hauling for another load — 75 cents compared to the going rate of $5 per mile.
“They’re heroes in my opinion,” she said of the Farm Rescue volunteers.
Farm Rescue is still seeking help of CDL drivers who are willing to donate their time, Erdmann said. The organization also is taking monetary donations to help cover fuel costs and purchase hay.