Almost two weeks after Hurricane Ike struck the upper Gulf Coast of Texas, shock is being replaced by worry, fatigue and nagging questions among affected ranchers. Massive efforts are ongoing to find and care for surviving domestic livestock, dig out from under debris and fallen trees and rebuild homes and ranching businesses.
"As I look into the faces of the cattle raisers who were hardest hit in the two counties, the worry and fatigue are clearly evident," reports Eldon White, executive vice president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), one of the organizations assisting with the relief effort.
"Ranchers are getting their cattle to pastures to get them settled, doctored and to restore their energy levels," explains Tim Niedecken, TSCRA executive director of association services. After a few days of quiet grazing, the cattle will be in good enough shape to be moved further into the state to short-term leased pastures. This will allow the pastures in the affected counties time to recover from the storm surge flooding.
Although beaten down and tired, the affected cattlemen are anything but defeated. Help from the industry seems to have revived their hopes. Within a week after the hurricane, thousands of stray cattle had been provided plenty of hay and fresh water "thanks to the relief effort coordinated by TAHC, TDA and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service aided by many livestock organizations," says White. Individuals, ranches and ag businesses poured dollars, hay and equipment into the area starting Monday after Ike.
In that same time frame, trucks and trailers had begun to line up near the pastures to which strays had been herded for safekeeping. The owners began sorting and moving their cattle, assisted by TSCRA special rangers and local law enforcement.
"Care is being taken to make sure that cattle are returned to their rightful owners," reports Larry Gray, head of TSCRA's special ranger force. TSCRA's responsibility is to ensure cattle are not taken from the area illegally – either intentionally or unintentionally.
When not inspecting cattle at the loading corrals, the special rangers monitor truck and trailer movement in the counties. "We will continue to stay in the area until all of the cattle that have survived are returned to their owners," Gray says.
A week after the storm, cattle started making their way to short-term lease pasture, but the mountains of persistent questions matched the mountains of storm debris piled on the roadsides around the counties.
"I was sitting across the table about midnight with one of our members in Chambers County, a sixth-generation cattle raiser," White says. "He kept working over in his mind, and out loud, the number of trucks he would need, where he could take his cattle until his pastures recovered, which pen he would load first, how many ranch hands he could send to the neighbors to help, how many of his neighbors' cattle he could take onto his own few remaining pastures to help out."
White says the rancher slept a couple of hours in a recliner and was out the door at 5 a.m. "Cattle raisers are known for their resilience, independence and their care for others – and especially their care for their livestock," White says.
Niedecken talked to a rancher 10 days after the storm who faces what is most likely a common dilemma. "That man's life's work was literally in a pen in front of him and he was asking 'What do I do now?' He has half a million dollars worth of cattle, a live commodity, in front of him. If he makes the right decision, he'll get to keep the value of those cattle. If he makes a mistake, he might lose half the value. These are hard decisions to make when most of the resources in the area have been wiped away or seriously impaired."
The relief effort is not over and will likely continue for weeks, according to White. To assist in the relief effort visit http://AgriLifevents.tamu.edu or call 979/845-2604 or visit the Hurricane Ike page on www.texascattleraisers.org. Low- and medium-resolution photos are available at http://www.texascattleraisers.org/newsdesk/2008/92508photos.html.
View even more IKE coverage on the BEEF Magazine Hurricane Ike site.