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Montana ranchers scramble to save young livestock in spring snow storm

Huller calves
Posted at 5:36 PM, Apr 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-12 19:36:09-04

BILLINGS — Tuesday's snowstorm that hammered southern and eastern Montana is giving the state's ranchers an extra challenge as they try to keep young livestock alive at the tail end of calving season.

"These storms are just brutal," said Molt rancher Sara Hollenbeck. "You just hope for the best and prepare for the worst."

Sara and husband Hank have been through a lot of spring storms, so they know what needs to be done.

"We started last night getting every animal in protection we could," she said. "Unfortunately, not every animal will fit into the barn."

At least one flock of sheep didn’t quite make it inside. They had a rude awakening.

Hollenbeck lambs
A flock of sheep struggles to stay warm in an April snow storm on the Hollenbeck Ranch in Molt.

"They were blown in quite a bit by the snow, but everything was at least head above," Hollenbeck said. "We gave them lots of alfalfa to get their bellies working and keep them warm, get them moving."

That’s one of the keys to avoiding cold stress, especially on younger livestock who need extra help when the temps dip below 50 degrees. Q2 Chief Engineer Mark Huller's calves were looking for all the food they can find at his property in Bridger. Ranchers all across Eastern Montana are battling this week.

Huller calves pic
Cows and a single calf feed at Mark Huller's ranch during an April snowstowm in Bridger, Montana.

"Between Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, we’re all swapping stories," Hollenbeck said. "'Has the snow hit you yet? How much have you gotten? Has any livestock been affected?'"

She hadn't heard any really bad news as of Tuesday afternoon, nothing like what they experienced in an April storm about a decade ago.

"We had just shorn some sheep, and they were out a ways from the barn," she said. "What happened was, it rained first, and then a blizzard rolled in. The sheep got cold and it wiped them out. That was one of the worst experiences we’ve been through as a ranch.

"It's detrimental financially as well as emotionally."

The best everyone can do now is just ride it out.

"Everything’s not going to be perfect come tomorrow, but hopefully we won’t have the loss like we have in past years."