Utah ranchers corral donations to replace cows lost in South Dakota blizzard
Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
MOUNTAIN HOME, Duchesne County — When he was 13 years old, Guy Thayne went to work for a rancher.
"He told me that part of my pay would be in calves," Thayne recalled.
Thayne remembers receiving his first pair of heifer calves on Thanksgiving Day that year. He has loved being around the big animals ever since.
"If the world's really getting to me, the best place to be is out in the field with the cows," the 69-year-old said.
"To me, it's just relaxing. They don't ask questions. They don't talk back," Thayne said with a chuckle.
So when the Duchesne County rancher, who is only running 20 head of cattle now due to health problems, heard about the loss of thousands of cows in South Dakota, it hit him hard.
"It just really," Thayne said, pausing to regain his composure, "tore my heart out that you could be wiped out overnight."
Earlier this month a storm that was supposed to put down only a few inches of snow in the Black Hills region of South Dakota turned into a blizzard that buried parts of the state under 4 feet of heavy, drifting snow. The storm, which hit earlier in the year than normal, killed an estimated 100,000 cattle.
Thayne's daughter lives in Wyoming, near the border with South Dakota, and told her father about friends who had lost almost all their cows and calves in the blizzard.
"That's enough to put them out of business, if stuff don't turn around," Thayne said.
So Thayne turned to the scriptures — another place he finds solace when the world's getting to him — and found a verse that gave voice to his desire to help.
"But behold I say unto you that by small and simple things, great things come to pass," he said, quoting a passage from the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon.
"So what I decided to do is gather up one cow from each rancher," Thayne said. "And if enough of them in the United Stated (donate), and I know there are enough, we could replace most of these cows for these people."
In the five days since he started his project with a post on his personal Facebook page, Thayne has received pledges for about a dozen head of cattle. He's not the only one, though, who is trying to help out fellow ranchers in South Dakota. Ranchers in other western states are also corralling the power of social media to collect cows.
"I have no doubt that there will be some people that were impacted by the storm that would be grateful to have donated animals," said Jodie Anderson, executive director of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association.
"I think there are going to be other folks that are impacted who would certainly prefer to choose their own (livestock) genetics when rebuilding their herds," she added.
But the total impact of the blizzard on South Dakota's livestock industry still hasn't been determined, Anderson said, and there's no system in place right now to accept live animal donations.
"I think we're still definitely weeks and maybe months away from being able to answer that question," Anderson said.
Thayne already has a commitment from Moon Trucking in Duchesne to drive the donated cows east, but his group doesn't plan to do that until they know the cattle will be accepted.
"It'll depend on what's going on in South Dakota," said Thayne, who is contributing a cow of his own to the drive. "(The donated cows) may be here until spring."
The Utah ranchers have partnered with the "Heifers for S. Dakota" Facebook group out of Montana, Thayne said, so that donations of cattle and money will be tax deductible.
Any money donated will offset the cost of trucking the cows to South Dakota, Thayne said. People who don't have cattle can also be put in touch with an organization that will use a monetary donation to purchase a cow, he said.
The lifelong rancher said he knows when those cows reach their new pastures, they'll help heal the hearts of those who lost so much, so fast.
"It's started small, but it's a big thing if it works, and I believe it will," Thayne said.
Those interested in contacting Thayne can call 435-454-3657 or 435-671-9857, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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