Accidental Breeder: Spring is coming in a storm

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This month has been a masterclass in the perils of farming. We spent the first half of last week preparing for a major winter storm, the second half battling it, and now we’re digging in. I can’t remember when I’ve been so physically or emotionally drained before (and this is from a woman who had two children in the span of 18 months.)

A blizzard is never welcome in our business, but end-of-season storms are particularly feared, even when they herald the end of a long drought. This storm was exceptionally difficult because, in addition to the significant precipitation (first rain, then sleet, then snow) and the blowing wind, we knew that during the first part of the storm the wind would come from the east. It’s so unusual that our ranch has no infrastructure to deal with it. All of our windbreaks, shelters and even the way the trees are planted protect livestock and buildings in the north, northwest and south.

In this part of the country, extreme weather conditions are normal. We hope for the best, but plan for the worst, and our plans are usually not made in vain. The advent of modern weather forecasting means we no longer have to worry about children getting lost in a whiteout on their way home from school, but modern technology cannot prevent a blizzard or lessen its impact once it hits. it hits, and no one has invented a way to change the direction of the wind. So we moved the cattle as close as we could, cobbled together paddocks and corrals with as much protection as possible, and waited for the storm to arrive, grateful at least we had a few days to prepare.

Now that the storm has passed, we are counting the damage. We lost two calves and a few trees, but the hardest thing for me personally is the sight of our yard littered with dead songbirds. I don’t know what made this storm different because I’ve never seen this before: dozens of robins, mourning doves, meadowlarks and dark-eyed juncos were torn from trees during the blizzard, and now snowdrifts are colored with their feathers.

In our windbreaks, the remaining birds whistle and cry when the wind temporarily calms down. The snow is still two balls high in our hay corral. Most mothers and babies are lounging in the large enclosures near the tack room, dozing in the first sun we’ve seen in days. Several of the babies are sick from being born in these harsh conditions, but are improving with medication and a break from the snow. The wind is still gusty and cold, but it’s blowing from the northwest again, so they can at least relax behind the sheet metal windbreaks.

In the greenhouse, the seedlings I planted last month reach their sun-tilted heads on slender stems. Next to them is a box containing the body of a lark that the dogs found on the last day of the storm. She was almost frozen, but she was still breathing, so I wrapped her in a washcloth. I had hoped she might come back if she could warm up, but she was too far away. Even in death, her feathered yellow scarf is incredibly shiny. I couldn’t bring myself to throw her out with everyone else, and the ground is too frozen to bury her.

Next week, another storm system is expected to move across the northern plains. Whether it rains or snows, we won’t know until it arrives, but today the sun is strong enough to start melting the tops of the south-facing galleries. I stop to sit in the greenhouse for a few minutes with the new green of the young plants, with the body of a bird whose mind has flown away, and watch the icicles begin to flow in a steady tick , one drop, two drops, three drops that turn into tiny ribbons of water that flow quickly like rivers to the sea.

Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in northwest South Dakota. She is a musician, mother, author and shepherd. She writes a column for local newspapers and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can find out more about Eliza at its website.

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Accidental Rancher: Spring Comes in the Fits of Storm

This month has been a masterclass in the perils of breeding. We spent the first half of last week preparing for a major winter storm, the second half battling it, and now we’re digging in. I can’t remember when I’ve been so physically or emotionally drained before (and this is from a woman who had two children in the span of 18 months.)

A blizzard is never a welcome thing in our business, but late-season thunderstorms are particularly feared, even when they herald the end of a long drought. This storm was exceptionally difficult because, in addition to the significant precipitation (first rain, then sleet, then snow) and the blowing wind, we knew that during the first part of the storm the wind would come from the east. It’s so unusual that our ranch has no infrastructure to deal with it. All of our windbreaks, shelters and even the way the trees are planted protect livestock and buildings in the north, northwest and south.

In this part of the country, extreme weather conditions are our Ordinary. We hope for the best, but plan for the worst, and our plans are usually not made in vain. The advent of modern weather forecasting means we no longer have to worry about children getting lost in a whiteout on their way home from school, but modern technology cannot prevent a blizzard or lessen its impact once it hits. it hits, and no one has invented a way to change the direction of the wind. So we moved the cattle as close as possible, cobbled together paddocks and corrals with as much protection as possible, and waited for the storm to arrive, grateful at least that we had a few days to prepare.

Now that the storm has passed, we are counting the damage. We lost two calves and a few trees, but the hardest thing for me personally is the sight of our yard littered with dead songbirds. I don’t know what made this storm different because I’ve never seen this before: dozens of robins, mourning doves, meadowlarks and dark-eyed juncos were torn from trees during the blizzard, and now snowdrifts are colored with their feathers.

In our windbreaks, the remaining birds whistle and cry when the wind temporarily calms down. The snow is still two balls high in our hay corral. Most mothers and babies are lounging in the large enclosures near the tack room, dozing in the first sun we’ve seen in days. Several of the babies are sick from being born in these harsh conditions, but are improving with medication and a break from the snow. The wind is still gusty and cold, but it’s blowing from the northwest again, so they can at least relax behind the sheet metal windbreaks.

In the greenhouse, the seedlings I planted last month are reaching maturity nodding towards the sun on slender stems. Next to them is a box containing the body of a lark that the dogs found on the last day of the storm. She was almost frozen, but she was still breathing, so I wrapped her in a washcloth. I had hoped she might come back if she could warm up, but she was too far away. Even in death, her feathered yellow scarf is incredibly shiny. I couldn’t bring myself to throw her out with everyone else, and the ground is too frozen to bury her.

Next week, another storm system is expected to move across the Northern Plains. Whether it rains or snows, we won’t know until it arrives, but today the sun is strong enough to start melting the tops of the south-facing galleries. I stop to sit in the greenhouse for a few minutes with the new green of the young plants, with the body of a bird whose mind has flown away, and watch the icicles begin to flow in a steady tick , one drop, two drops, three drops that turn into tiny ribbons of water that flow quickly like rivers to the sea.

Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in northwest South Dakota. She is a musician, mother, author and shepherd. She writes a column for local newspapers and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can find out more about Eliza atits website.

This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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