Six years ago, the unthinkable happened in my home state of South Dakota and the surrounding region. An unexpected, fast-traveling blizzard hit the Northern Plains in early October, killing tens of thousands of cattle, sheep and horses and devastating area livestock producers. It didn’t matter if the cattle were penned close to home or out in the pasture, the Atlas blizzard was so cruel and so destructive that very few animals in its wake survived the blast.
To the south, I’ve seen my friends in the beef industry weather through devastating drought, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires. We’ve seen the damage, the heartache, the dreams lost, the generations of hard work destroyed with the mighty hand that Mother Nature has dealt.
And each and every time, whether it’s been my own experience of losing cattle in a winter storm or seeing a peer struggle through a hardship of similar ilk, my heart aches just the same.
Hearing the news of what is happening in rural Australia hits me in the gut no differently.
After years of drought, producers in Queensland, Australia, welcomed the much-needed rain that arrived at their rural communities. However, the relief was short-lived as the moisture quickly turned into a dramatic flood (with some reports estimating 28 inches of rain) that has left an estimated 500,000 head of cattle dead.
“The speed and intensity of the unfolding tragedy makes it hard to believe that it’s just a week since farmers’ elation at receiving the first decent rains in five years turned to horror at the devastating and unprecedented flood that quickly followed,” said Michael Guerin, CEO of AgForce, an organization that represents Queensland’s rural producers, in an interview with Prevention Web.
Some reports have revealed that many producers in Australia have lost up to 80% of their entire herds.
In what is being described as a “sea of dead cattle,” the monsoonal flooding caused livestock to drown, succumb to hypothermia or suffocate in the mud as cattle piled on top of each other for warmth.
"This will finish a lot of people. There's some people who've lost everything, every beast they own, so there's no income at all,” said William McMillan, an Australian farmer, to ABC.
Nearly 50% of Australia’s 25-million head cattle herd lives in Queensland, so this hit the heart of cattle country for our fellow beef producers halfway around the world. The destruction of this flood will likely take ranchers decades to recover from, and I truly feel for these producers as they face the unimaginable.
Australian beef producer, Jacqueline Curley, has put together a shocking and eye-opening collection of images on Facebook that truly highlight the enormity of the destruction.
She writes, “As we begin to access our paddocks, we are being confronted with death and devastation at every turn. There are kangaroos dead in trees and fences, birds drowned in drifts of silt and debris and our beloved bovine family lay perished in piles where they have been huddling for protection and warmth. This scene is mirrored across the entire region, it is absolutely soul destroying to think our animals suffered like this.
“The true scale of destruction this disaster has left in its wake we are only just beginning to discover. The sheer amount of water that engulfed the region has demolished fences, exposed pipelines, destroyed water infrastructure, created huge gullies that were once only small seasonal streams, turned roads into rivers and completely washed dam banks away.
“Right now, I’m sure I am speaking on behalf of everyone affected, our focus is entirely on the welfare of our animals. In the coming weeks when the surviving animals no longer require our constant care, our focus will shift to the colossal task of clean-up, repair and re-building where possible. This will also be the time where many will be able to take stock and start the grueling task of tallying up the horrific financial cost of this devastating event and begin to make plans for the future. I fear many families will not be able to recover from this blow financially, in some cases their entire future income has literally been washed away.
“This is an absolutely gut-wrenching time for all of us out here. These cattle are not just our source of income, firstly they are our family and for many of us our life’s passion. Day and night they are often our primary focus and during times like this our every waking moment is dedicated solely to their welfare. The toll that this will take on our extended agricultural family and throughout our entire community financially and even more so emotionally really is truly immeasurable.”
My thoughts and prayers are with these Australian cattlemen and women. We’ll work to keep everyone updated on this devastating flood in the weeks to come. If you have any resources where people can gift their time, talents or treasures to help these folks, please email me at [email protected] Thank you.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.