Farmers lose livestock in winter storm

Mindy Ragan Wood, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
·5 min read

Feb. 18—Norman area farmers are fighting frozen water tanks and cold shelters as they do what they can to keep livestock from freezing to death.

Local psychologist Dr. Patrick O'Brien has lost several calves due to the storm.

With 250 cattle stretched out between the Norman area and Wanette, snow and freezing weather has made calving season more deadly, O'Brien said.

"When a cow has a calf, she doesn't call the hospital, she just does it there, and we've lost three baby calves," O'Brien said. "We've had some with their ears frozen and tails frozen, and their feet frozen. Just this morning we had six 700-pound calves that fell in a pond. So, we had to drag those out and two of them died so far.

"We've got four in a big barn, trying to thaw them out. It's been a tough deal. The snow is bad enough, but these frigid temperatures have been a real mess."

Joe Carter, veterinarian and owner of Oklahoma Equine Hospital, said the biggest problem farmers and ranchers face right now is frozen water.

"Livestock are pretty resilient if they can get out of the wind," he said.

O'Brien said he has ponds nearly every place he has cattle, but he and his team have had to cut through six to eight inches of ice to get the cattle water.

"We've had to use chainsaws, pole saws, anything we can to cut the ice," he said. "What happens is we had six and eight inches of snow last night. It just blew across the pond and they knew where they're going. They knew there was a pond, but got in the middle of the pond before they broke through."

John McDaniel lives in Ward 5, where he battles a frozen water line that's the only water supply he has to deliver to cattle in the field. His pond is frozen.

"I was doing real good until they (the power company) cut me off for three hours in the black out," he said. "I'm lucky the house is still on, but I've got to figure out how to get my cows water. I'm on two different lines for that reason, in case you lost one. It doesn't do any good if you can't get it to the cows."

On Monday and Tuesday, OG&E promised targeted outages to conserve energy would last only one to two hours. McDaniel said he did not know why his was off for so long.

"I'm gonna either cut a hole in the pond and hope they'll follow me down to get some, or haul it in, I guess," he said.

The maneuver comes with risks, because cattle could decide to tread ice and get stuck.

"They're not the smartest animals," McDaniel said.

One rancher who spoke with Carter told him that he attempted to bust the ice in a fiberglass tank, but it shattered the tank.

"He had to go buy more tanks. It's that cold that those tanks are fragile," he said. "They need galvanized tanks, but they're all sold out."

Some emergencies have been bizarre rather than lethal, like the case of a bull whose genitals froze in the mud. Carter responded to the call.

"That's the worst that I've seen so far. He was in a muddy spot and the next thing you know, the temperature dropped. The only thing he lost was his pride," said Carter. "He's a steer now."

Carter said in the 40 years he has been a veterinarian, he's never seen the weather conditions this bad.

"I've been through a lot of blizzards, but they're usually better in a couple of days," he said. "The sun comes out and they're not below freezing for 10 straight days. That's unheard of."

Billy Davison's family has had to brave the cold and dangerous trek to Moore, where his daughter cares for animals as part of the FFA program.

"She has a show goat and a show sheep," Davison said. "We have to travel in town twice a day — once in the morning and once in the evening to care for them at the ag barn in Moore, no matter what the road conditions are."

Davison is also caring for chickens in a coop and goats in a barn with a heat lamp for both spaces.

"(The water tank) still freezes, but because of the heater, it's much easier to break the ice," he said of the barn. "The chicken coop, you just have to take a small container of water out twice a day."

Davison and McDaniel have not lost any livestock.

The USDA Farm Service Agency is prepared to help those who experience loss due to the storm.

The Livestock Indemnity Program is provided by the agency to provide assistance "for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather, disease and attacks by animals released into the wild," the agency's website reads.

Owners must provide proof of death documentation, inventory, normal mortality rate and a copy of any related contracts, the application reads. A notice of loss within 30 days must be filed and documentation within 60 days after the "end of the calendar year in which the eligible loss occurred."

Applications for payment must be submitted by March 1, 2022. Questions can be directed to the Oklahoma Farm Service Agency office at 742-1130.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.