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Livestock Losses Still Unclear
From Early Blizzard On Plains

By David Bowser

The Southeastern Colorado cattle industry was still trying to determine the death loss this week from a blizzard that ripped through the state the last weekend of October.

Southeastern Colorado, Southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle appear to have borne the brunt of the first blizzard of the year. The Texas Panhandle and Nebraska escaped relatively unscathed.

"I don't even care to guess at the number lost in Nebraska but it would be way, way less than we're hearing south and west of here," says Jeff Stolle with the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association.

Estimates in Colorado range from 15,000 to 30,000 head of cattle lost in the blizzard. The Texas Panhandle reported fewer than 1000 head lost to the storm.

"Most of the ranchers here that were running a 1000 or more head of cattle, they lost 250 of them," says Bruce Gum of the Guymon Livestock Auction. "That's kind of been the percentage."

Gum says one feedyard northeast of Guymon lost about 438 head, while another west of the city lost more than 1100 head of cattle.

"You get west toward Texhoma and one rancher who had 500 steers turned out lost 156 of them," Gum says. "Another had 480 steers, and he lost 135. It's just been that kind of story all along."

The storm apparently was most severe from just south of Guymon north to the Nebraska border.

"You get south of us 35 miles and it didn't seem to be too bad," Gum says.

Paul Hitch of Guymon-based Hitch Enterprises says they lost between 1150 and 1200 head in their three feedyards. Two of the yards are in the Guymon area. One is near Garden City, Kansas.

"The Kansas lot was the least damaged," Hitch says. "It was one of those things where the long-term damage to the actual facilities is going to be minimal. As far as having major problems with pen conditions, it isn't going to work that way because it turned off bright and sunny and warm. It wasn't a huge amount of snow that fell. It was like four or five inches.

"The problem," Hitch continues, "was that there was a huge amount of wind pushing it around. It piled cattle up in the pens, and we had significant death loss. That's not going to be fun. There's sure going to be some lost performance on these cattle, but we'll make some of it up. We're now making some of it up."

Both Oklahoma and Texas feedyards report that bright sunny days and pleasant fall conditions this week are minimizing the long-term effects.

While the Colorado Department of Agriculture is officially estimating between 10,000 and 15,000 casualties lost to the storm, it acknowledges that its estimates may be low. Snow still covers the Colorado landscape in many places, making it difficult to get an accurate count.

"I've heard estimates anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000, but I don't think anybody really knows," says Janet Jackson with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

"We are expecting it to go to the 30,000 range," says Todd Inglee of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association.

Most of those losses will be cattle.

"Right now they haven't located many sheep," Inglee says. "There aren't a lot of sheep grazing in that part of the state, so about 97 percent of the loss is cattle."

There are not a lot of firm numbers, Inglee admits.

"A lot of people still can't get out to where their cattle were," he explains.

Barb Wilkinson with the Colorado Cattle Feeders says her family ranches in Southern Colorado, and they haven't been able to get out to all their cattle.

"There are still huge amounts of snow out there," she says.

Cattle losses on the Colorado-Kansas border have kept crews busy as they remove the dead livestock.

"We have 40 to 50 semi-loads a day" of carcasses coming in, said James Davis of National Byproducts Inc., a rendering company with facilities in Denver and Wichita, Kan.

The loads have been moving at that rate all week, he said.

The drifting snow buried fences and cattle were scattered. There was one report, she says, of cattle that wandered 42 miles from home in the storm.

"There were 52 of them that walked from Lamar to Springfield," Wilkinson says. "They found them on the runway of the airport in Springfield."

Press reports say the airport was closed but the runways had been plowed, leaving them open and relatively sheltered by the piled snow.

While cattlemen in Colorado were counting their losses, ranchers and feeders in Nebraska and Texas were counting their blessings.

"Our cattle recovered fairly quickly in most cases," Stolle says. "We are showing quite a few more cattle this week in the feedyard than we were last week."

Stolle says the worst part of the storm went south of Nebraska.

"There are areas in Nebraska that did receive anywhere from a foot to two feet of snow, but we were somewhat lucky from the aspect that there were some major concentrations of cattle in our major feeding areas that really came through pretty well," Stolle says. "The Lexington-Cozad area got four or five inches of snow and the wind blew and it was pretty tough for a while, but they didn't get the foot-plus of snow. In the West Point-Wizner area, which is up in northeast Nebraska, a major concentration of feeding up there, they escaped almost unscathed. They had just an inch or two of snow."

Burt Rutherford with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association says it appears the severe portion of the storm was north of the Canadian River, and Texas losses were relatively light.

Although Amarillo reported strong winds and a dusting of snow on Saturday, Oct. 25, the following day was bright and sunny.

"From some of the stories we've heard out of Western Kansas, we feel like we were fortunate," Stolle says.

"The good news if there is any is that it didn't last a long time, and it turned off beautiful after the storm passed," Hitch says. "We'll have a chance to heal before real winter gets here. It's not going to be one of those things where you have to fight the aftermath until April. It ain't going to work that way."

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