Well, we made it through the brunt of this year’s unusually harsh winter and onto the sweet, sweet springtime.  

Enduring nearly a month of a strong, arctic polar vortex sitting over Big Sky Country in February and into early March, no one could catch a break. Temperatures dipped to nearly 40-below zero for days. On top of that, a big pile of snow fell on the ground — schools closed, dozens of people were snowed in and avalanches covered roadways.  

While all of us Montanans suffered, none can compare to our ranchers who calve during the early leg of the season in February. The weather proved especially brutal on their cows, heifers and calves.

Take a look at these photos by Keren Zucker, night calver for the Peterson Ranch in the Ruby Valley. She experienced a doozy of a winter in first-season as a night calver.

A new babe still wet from birth boldly eyes the camera. Shortly afterward, Zucker likely took the calve into the warming room for the night. Despite her vigilance and long hours looking after the newborn calves and mothers, many babies died 12 or more hours later.
Cows and calves suffered frosty faces and ears, merely some of the ailments ranchers dealt with during February.
Despite night calvers’ ongoing efforts, many calves were lost: “I would come back (at night for her shift) and (a calf) would be dead,” said Zucker.  
The Peterson ranch raises Angus-Hereford crosses.

Since February, many ranchers throughout the state are dealing with sluggish calves, frostbite-caused flesh wounds and prolonged sickness that all can ultimately lead to more deaths. Unfortunately, often there is nothing calvers can do about their losses.

The USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program provides 75-percent aid to ranchers who lose cattle during short-term storms. However, the program does not account for a long-term polar vortex, a strong circulation of deeply cold air from the poles that moves southward, where it sits and settles.  

Right now, all ranchers can do is take good care of their calves — and hope for warmer months and a calmer winter next season.  

-Brooke Reynolds

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