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Feed turned to ash: In fires’ aftermath, ranchers on blackened ground have few choices


Firefighters tackle a structure fire in the Kamiah area on the Brad Higgins Ranch during the Aug. 14 fire.

Credit: Contributed photo / Jonathan Rosenau
Firefighters tackle a structure fire in the Kamiah area on the Brad Higgins Ranch during the Aug. 14 fire.



Dry conditions, high winds, and lightning were ingredients for a disaster recipe; one that many Idaho County residents were forced to swallow.

Numerous fires near the Kamiah area, as well as other surrounding areas, have taken their toll on folks. Flames scorched acres of late summer and early fall pastures, and ignited hay barns consuming several hundred tons of hay. This fire aftermath turned livestock feed and forage into ash.

Area farmer Jonathan Rosenau said, “I can’t believe watching what happens when these things happen and even seeing neighbors that usually don’t talk much drop everything to help. Truly makes you love where we live, to see people’s comradery and willingness to help, even putting them and their equipment in danger to do so.”

Rosenau provided his semi-trailer loaded with a 3,200-gallon tank: “One night between my tanker and another neighbor’s we hauled around 80,000 gallons to keep other engines full of water.”

After the adrenaline quits pumping and the smoke clears, several ranchers are faced with a critical decision. What to do with their cattle?

Idaho/Lewis County Cattle Association President Frank McIntire wrote in The Cattle Call, “We fought fire for more than two weeks with a large black circle burned all around Woodland. I got to experience shipping my cattle out to the Cottonwood Livestock Market who took care of my cows for more than two weeks.”

Ranchers budget each year for a certain amount of feed to sustain their cattle through winter. This form of feed is mainly in hay, either put up themselves through a lot of time, hard work, and cost; or purchased and paid for.

A ton and a half to two tons of hay are required to winter a cow in our area. This depends on the length of feeding season, which is largely weather dependent.

Idaho County produces a variety of hay crops, encompassing more than 41,000 acres. In 2014, Farm Service Agency showed yields running 2.3 ton per acre on an alfalfa/grass hay mixture.

This year hay harvest started about two to three weeks early with producers reporting a reduction in tonnage produced per acre.

A ton of hay can cost between one hundred and two hundred dollars per ton, depending on the quality.

Most ranchers probably insure their hay, but a check in the bank does not replace a commodity hard to find. Some ranchers look south to fill their hay barns, but southern Idaho has been heavily hit by wildfires, also.

After losing two full hay barns, Cottonwood rancher Brad Higgins said, “Fortunately the hay was insured. It is still a pain finding hay and unloading trucks for the second time this summer. Also, no barns to put the hay in so we’ll be tarping outside stacks.”

Higgins also lost about 150 acres of pasture and several miles of fence.

When the Tepee Springs fire blew across Salmon River, it roared through the Carlson ranch consuming their livestock feed as well as three outbuildings. Long-time Riggins rancher Mick Carlson said, “I don’t have a spear of grass left, not a spear. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my cows.”

A rancher, now looking over blackened ground has few choices: Try to purchase more feed, whether it be hay or some form of protein supplementation. Try to find somewhere else to pasture or feed his livestock until his own ground heals up. Or, sell his cattle and take a tax hit.

Most ranchers estimate income and expense costs from year-to-year, offsetting foreseeable major differences. If cattle sales are substantially larger than expenses in a year, the IRS holds its hand out.

If livestock are depleted, what does the rancher do with his ground, his equipment; it becomes a domino effect. Will it be feasible to restock in a few years?

Some of these hardy folks have taken care of their land and developed their cattle pedigree for generations. It’s not easy to make such drastic changes to a strong lifestyle.

Shelley Neal is a resident of Lucile.garrett.neal@verizon.net



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