The floodwaters from two spring blizzards in Nebraska have receded in most places, but the work to rebuild roads, fix fences and restore the cattle industry that may have lost an estimated 1 million animals is far from over.
Frederick County farmers — young and old — have reached into their pockets and organized others to raise money and buy supplies for farmers and ranchers in Nebraska. In the past two weeks, they have loaded hay and supplies onto tractor-trailers, or drove trucks out themselves, to make sure help arrives in time.
“It gives me chills thinking about it — knowing that a majority of their state is just washed away and that millions of animals just washed away,” said Ella Jacobs, 15, a freshman at Oakdale High School.
Ella raised $4,000 in the past two weeks to assist farms in Nebraska, and persuaded her FFA chapter at Oakdale High to raise money as well. All the money will be donated to the Nebraska Farm Bureau disaster relief fund, which will distribute it to farmers and ranchers in need.
Social media helped Ella get the message out. She recorded a Facebook Live video, which had been viewed 3,000 times as of Friday, she said. The overwhelming response to her video came as a surprise.
“I know that in the agricultural community word does spread quickly. I’ve got donations from Georgia and all over. It’s crazy, but it’s awesome,” Ella said.
With fields underwater and calving season underway, however, more than just money is needed in the many areas of Nebraska.
Kathy Stowers, a fifth-generation farmer at Twin View Acres near Jefferson, knew from growing up on a dairy farm that feeding the surviving cattle was going to be a problem until farmers could replant their pastures and crops. She and her neighbor loaded an estimated 110 round bales of extra hay from their farms onto tractor-trailers destined for cattle farms in the Midwest.
She wrote encouraging messages including “cherish your family,” “all the way from Maryland” and “proud to be a farmer” on the white plastic wrapped around the bales. Stowers said the messages were her way of sending little notes of encouragement to the farmers.
“Mostly, I did it in memory of my mom and dad, because that’s what they would have done,” said Stowers, who lost her mother on March 12, just a day before the rain that eventually turned into a blizzard arrived in Nebraska.
The first blizzard struck Nebraska on March 14 as what meteorologists call a “bomb cyclone” because of plummeting atmospheric pressures that accompanied the storm. The weather caused dramatic swings in temperature, which melted the snow into torrents of water that flooded parts of the state.
A second storm hit the state a month later on April 11, but luckily it was not as bad as the first, said Becky Chaney, who moved from Frederick County to Cross Diamond Cattle Co. ranch in Nebraska six years ago with her family.
“The second blizzard, the ranch that my husband works for ... we were actually in the middle of calving season,” Chaney said.
Her husband, Lee Chaney, their twin daughters, Rianna and Sheridan, and other workers on the 3,500-acre ranch scouted fields through the night to find newborn calves that would freeze to death unless they were dried off and warmed up.
“The biggest thing is they come out wet, and with the freezing temperatures there’s no way to dry them off,” Chaney said.
Their work paid off. Of the ranch’s 340 calves — that ranged from a few minutes to a few weeks old — they rescued all but one.
In the United States, there are an estimated 93.6 million cattle and calves and 6.7 million resided in Nebraska, according to the most recent 2017 Census of Agriculture.
While the Chaney family saw few casualties among their Red Angus, other farmers lost an entire generation of calves or watched a whole herd float away in the floodwaters, she said.
She called farms in some of the worst-flooded areas and asked who needed help. Then she drove a group of eight teenagers in her 4-H club on Friday to a farm west of Omaha to help a man dig out debris and rebuild his fence over the next two days.
They also bought gift cards to hand out on Easter to farmers as a reminder that people care about and support them.
“These natural disasters happen, and they can’t give up,” Chaney said.
Richard Johnson, of Mount Airy, also felt a call to action following reports of the spring blizzard and floods in Nebraska. Johnson owns a small local construction company, Johnson Contracting LLC, and decided he could load his vehicles with supplies and get them to farmers and ranchers in need by himself.
He raised $11,000 for supplies by auctioning off a donated tractor, which he used to buy rolls of barbed wire, posts and other odds and ends at Southern States.
“I know these people and I’ve been to these parts of town,” Johnson said before he left. “I understand what they’re going through.”