Monday, December 02, 2013

Ranchers describe 'worst storm in 150 years'

The week before the storm, it had been wet and mild and the prairies of the Great Plains were deep in mud. Then, the first winter snow came early and unexpectedly in an icy blast from the north-west. Trapped in the mud, 30,000 cattle suffocated and froze to death. They were buried in 20ft (6m) snow drifts, entombed in ice in what ranchers call the "breaks and draws" - the slopes and valleys - of the rolling prairie hills. Larry Stomprud is a tall, thin cowboy wearing a black leather waistcoat and slim-cut blue jeans. Grey hair peeps from beneath his brown cowboy hat. He is a tough rancher who has spent half a century herding cattle. But his voice falters and there are tears in his eyes as he describes the devastation on his ranch. "I looked at my grandfather's records," he says quietly. "It was the worst storm for 150 years." His throat is strangled with anguish and with sadness as he says: "God entrusted us with the care of these animals and we failed them." At Lone Tree Ranch, in Meade County, 3,000ft (910m) up in the undulating hills that stretch out over the prairie like giant sand dunes, Larry Reinhold shows me Costello Point where nearly a hundred of his horses perished. In cash terms his losses will run to around $250,000 (£153,000). "It is not the money," he says. "These animals were our friends. It is heartbreaking." Larry runs ranch holidays for children from all over America and his business is now in jeopardy. In the community of Box Elder, Monty and Bobby Jo Williams lost 200 Angus beef cattle but they did find one small calf buried in the snow and still alive 17 days after the storm. "We have to trust that things will be OK," says Larry, holding his two-year-old daughter. "Our little girl has kept us going. We have to think of the future." But ranch folk help each other and in an inspiring act of charity, Ty Linger, a young Christian rancher from Montana, has created Heifers For South Dakota - a sort of Cattle Aid for farmers who have lost livestock. "My inspiration is Galatians 6:10," he beams, saluting me with his cowboy hat and wearing a jaunty red silk scarf tied at his neck. Those lines from the Bible say if you have the chance, do some good - and Ty's leap of faith has seen farmers from neighbouring states donate 650 cattle to ranchers in need...more

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