As an aspiring cattlemen, the news of wildfires rolling through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas was very devastating. A total of 1.5 million acres, an area the same size as the state of Delaware, were burned. The amount of livestock whose lives were lost is even more staggering: 13,700 head of cattle and 8,400 head of hogs died as a result of the wildfires. It is estimated that $21 million worth of livestock, pasture, fence, feed and supplies were lost.
This disaster turned the lives of many ranchers upside down. Gardiner Angus Ranch, one of the most prominent Angus operations in the country, lost around 500 head of cattle to the wildfires in Clark county Kansas. With their production sale in April, the wildfires were even more detrimental. The sale went on, and the ranch was able to average $5,754 on 702 lots and gross $4,654,600. Luckily, Gardiner was able to save the lives of his donor cows, preserving generations of genetics. However, Greg Gardiner, co-owner of the operation, states that it will take three years to replenish their cow herd.
Many other ranchers were forced to euthanize cattle that were in excruciating pain from injuries caused by the fires. When asked about what he had to do after the fires, Mark Kaltenbach, 69 year old rancher, stated “We did what had to be done, They’re gentle. They know us. We know them. You just thought, Wow, I am sorry.” Mark was just one of the many families that watched their entire livelihood go up in flames. They had to bury hundreds of cattle, and watch even more burnt cattle stumble around, hardly able to see or breathe, just before they put them out of their suffering.
This disaster also sparked a great deal of political debate. Most ranchers, along with the rest of the agricultural community are traditionally very conservative, however, they felt rather abandoned by President Trump in this time of need. He neglected to mention anything about the devastating fires on his ‘famous’ Twitter account, let alone go out and visit with the ranchers and see the damages for himself.
Aaron Sawyers, an agriculture extension agent for Kansas State University, was very disgruntled by our government’s delayed response to the fires. “This is our Hurricane Katrina” Sawyers stated. He is now fully convinced that Washington is completely detached from production agriculture. Sawyer is quoted saying “None of them are worth a damn, Republicans or Democrats”
On the other hand, the ranching community is a very close knit family, and when one’s family is in trouble- they respond. The relief efforts put forth by cattle producers have been highly impressive. There have been countless Cattleman Associations, Universities, and other groups raising funds to help support fellow ranchers in such a devastating time. Breeders World hosted an online sale April 3rd that was able to raise $58,365 for panhandle fire relief, this is just one out of the many benefit auctions held to help ranchers in need. Outside of shear money, many families from here in the corn belt have been headed west with round bales to feed cattle that survived the fires. As of April 1st the affected areas have been completely stocked with hay and feed, but are still seeking out fencing supplies. You can contact your local cattlemen’s association for information on how to help!
My name is Breck Debnam and I am currently a senior majoring in Agriculture Business at Western Illinois University. I am from Damascus, Maryland where I grew up on a grain and cattle operation. I am currently employed at Lowderman Cattle Company in western Illinois and hope to manage a purebred cattle herd here in the Midwest when I finish my education.