Icy weather, but ranching as usual

Even though last week was a challenge for most folks with nights of -15 and -20, not counting wind chill, Carbon County ranchers were stoic about the challenge to their animals.

“We have a family business,” said Cheryl Brown, Bridger, about their sheep operation. Not one animal was lost in the recent long cold snap. “We herd them to a certain place, down in the trees. Of course, we have to feed them.” She said it was not a matter of cold, but keeping them out of the wind.

“Lambing season is not until the end of January,” she said. They are fortunate to have sufficient barn space and it was heated, for all their lambing. For any needing shelter they also had open, lean-to sheds.

Brown thought last week was nothing extraordinary. “It’s just normal,” she said. “In the 70’s it was pretty cold. I remember ’78 was cold and snowing all winter. There was one day in 1985 that was a minus day. The kids went to school, celebrated Christmas at noon and then went home.”

“It’s not calving season,” said Sheila Hildebrand, Joliet. “Everything is different then.” As for how the cattle handled that cold blast with winter warnings continuing this week she said, “They fared well.

She admitted things do transition for winter, “It’s the season. Before, they were by themselves.”

Now, she said, caretaking begins. “You go from hands off to hands on, breaking water and feeding hay, rather than letting them on the open range.”

All round she reflected, “People are having trouble starting their engines and feeding their livestock.” Compared to what this would have been like in February, prime calving season, she said, “It’s still pretty easy.”

All the pregnant cattle are early in gestation and “pretty hardy.” Once calving starts however, she warned, “You’re living with them. You bring them in.”

She thought about the disastrous storm that killed thousands of cattle in South Dakota last month. “That kind of thing is always chancy.” Hildebrand said there’s no way to prepare. “Most don’t have space to bring the whole herd in when a blizzard like that hits. Everything is vulnerable.” Right now, Hildebrand said, they are counting their blessings.