Impact of April storms on livestock is severe, NDSU study says | Agriculture news

Blizzards that blasted western North Dakota last month had a severe impact on the cattle ranching community, according to a new North Dakota State University report.

A three-day blizzard in mid-April dropped 2-3 feet of snow over a wide area, and an Easter Sunday storm that followed added several inches more, along with heavy rain in many other areas. A late-month blizzard dumped another 1 to 1 ½ feet of snow in the west and also brought freezing rain to the region.

The storms and associated power outages have been a hardship for ranchers in the midst of calving season.

A survey by NDSU Extension county agents didn’t determine numerical livestock losses, but ranchers in most western counties reported major or extreme impacts.

“The most common storm-related challenges reported by livestock producers included livestock health; lack of bedding; inadequate and/or damaged buildings, structures or facilities; lack of windbreaks; and inadequate feed supplies,” the report said. “The heavy impacts to livestock were due, in part, to the timing of the storms, as many ranchers calve in March and April and either had young calves or were actively calving.”

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Livestock health was by far the most-reported challenge by ranchers. The counties of Ward, Mountrail, Golden Valley, Billings and Stark had estimated losses of more cattle than 10% of their 2021 inventory. Most other western counties had estimated losses of up to 5% of their cattle inventory.

The percentages might be the best available estimate of actual losses, according to Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

“We will likely do a follow-up survey in coordination with the Department of Agriculture to better understand the impacts of the storm to livestock,” she said. “I am not sure we will be able to get exact numerical and financial losses. It is very difficult for producers to share this information, even with someone they trust.”

Losses also could mount, as calves could still become ill in coming weeks.

“In addition to early-in-life risk, there may be long-term effects related to severe weather as well,” said Dr. Gerald Stokka, Extension veterinarian-livestock stewardship. “When calves are compromised at birth and good immunity is not established, there remains a higher risk of illness and death loss even through the weaning phase.”

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association and its Foundation have started a rancher relief fund. The groups’ initial $40,000 has been bolstered by an additional $34,000 in donations, according to Stockmen’s Executive Vice President Julie Ellingson. For more information go to

The federal Livestock Indemnity Program also might be a resource for ranchers. It compensates them for livestock deaths in excess of normal humanity, paying 75% of the fair market value, with national payment rates set annually by the US agriculture secretary.

Ranchers also need to look after themselves, according to Sean Brotherson, Extension family science specialist.

“The emotional and physical needs of those who are undergoing stress from such conditions in agriculture are sometimes forgotten during efforts to manage farming impacts from external events,” he said. “Individual farmers, ranchers and laborers may not consider their own needs, or they may feel too occupied with other responsibilities to handle personal or family needs.”

NDSU Extension has resources on its website to help people in the agriculture industry manage stress. For more information, go to

Reach News Editor Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or


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