Embracing Disaster

GAR Radiance sold as Lot 1 in Gardiner Angus Ranch?s 38th annual spring production sale April 1, less than a month after a raging wildfire burned most of the 48,000-acre ranch, killing 550 cows and destroying one home. All of the bulls scheduled to sell were safe in pens at ranch headquarters the day of the fire. Canceling the sale was never an option considered by the fifth generation ranching familyresilience in the face of adversity was common among the ranching communities damaged by the fires.Neighboring commercial rancher Dave Bouziden lost more than 90% of his herd in the inferno that burned half of Clark County, Kan., on March 6, 2017. It burned every acre of our ranch, Bouziden says. All but 13 adult cows either died in the fire pushed by winds of 70 mph, or were humanely put down in the hours following. The wind and the brittle-dry grass stoked multiple fires in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. Sadly, the Gardiner and Bouziden families were among the more fortunate. Six people died in Texas that night, three of them caught by the fire when the wind shifted as they were trying to push cattle on horseback to safety on the Franklin Ranch in Gray County. A seventh victim died in Kansas from smoke inhalation after crashing his truck on a smoke-covered highway. The largest fire, called the Starbuck Fire, began in Beaver County, Okla., spreading to Harper County, Okla., and Clark and Comanche Counties in Kansas. In all, the Starbuck Fire consumed 800,000 acres, roughly twice as large as last year?s Anderson Creek Fire that burned 400,000 acres in Barber and Kiowa Counties. The Starbuck Fire consumed 600,000 acres in Clark and Comanche Counties, earning the dubious distinction as the largest wildfire in Kansas ever. The multiple fires across four states blackened 1.6 million acres. Estimates of livestock losses are incomplete, but early guesses put the number at 9,000 to 10,000 cattle. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service says early estimates of agricultural losses in the Texas Panhandle were $21 million, but that total was expected to rise.About $6.1 million of that estimate was to replace an estimated 975 miles of fence in the Panhandle. We are assuming half of that will be repaired at a cost of $2,500 per mile, and the other half will have to be replaced at a cost of $10,000 per mile, says Steve Amosson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension economist in Amarillo. Amazingly, many of the ranching families whose homes and livelihoods stood in the path of the fires found blessings to count as they began putting their lives back together. Before the smoke had cleared, news spread via social media and farmers and ranchers from across the nation began loading hay to be transported to their distant neighbors in need. Just four days after the fire and 300 miles east, one rancher texted this note about a caravan of dually pickups he saw pulling gooseneck trailers loaded with hay westbound: They?ll be wore out when they get there from waving to every cow truck they meet along the way. And just in case anybody needs to be told, they weren?t hauling any two-year-old hay. They?re not going to show up with anything but the best hay they have, because every one of those cowboys knows if the tables were turned that?s what those folks who need help this time would do. Donations of hay to all the fire areas were nothing short of overwhelming. In fact, two weeks after the fires officials had asked for hay donations to stop. But there remain plenty of ways to donate to those in need. Fencing and supplies are one of the biggest needs, along with milk replacer for orphaned calves. Money is also being accepted by various organizations for distribution to affected ranches. (For a list of ways to donate, visit www.Drovers.com/wildfires.) The Gardiner brothers, Greg, Mark and Garth, exhibit a resolve to survive the crisis that can be found throughout the ranching community. They were hit hardin addition to the loss of cattle and grass, Mark?s home burned.Relatively unscathed by the fire was Gardiner?s most valuable possessionother than their close knit family. Due to the power of technology and innovation, our genetic packages are still intact, Greg Gardiner says. We did not lose our donor cows, the foundation of our herd. As bad as things are, it could have been much more devastating. We still have the genetic power and technology at our fingertips. Next spring?s production sale will see a minimal effect from the fire as those bull calves are still with the fall calving herd that were safely grazing wheat pasture during the fire. In fact, Gardiner says by purchasing replacement recipient cows, the ranch?s breeding program might only fall behind six months rather than the two-to-three years they anticipated initially. Note: This story appears in the April 2017 issue of Drovers.