Lessons from the Heartland

By Nathan Barton

This commentary comes from a long-time friend and correspondent in the Sand Hills of Nebraska and South Dakota.

I think it shows how liberty works in a small if very widespread community, where in times of crisis, people work together voluntarily and freely, with or without government help.  (I am not saying that these people are all libertarians, or that they do not receive government help and support government and the mess it is.  But they still are able  and willing to do everything they can to take care of themselves and each other.)

Warning: this is a much longer than usual post, but worth reading and sharing.  It is her final draft, of a commentary normally published on Wednesdays.

Flood disaster brings out our best side

Hundreds of flood pictures and statistics shared over the Internet are awakening folks nationwide to the disaster that will continue to challenge citizens of South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska for months, if not years. While the mighty Missouri River continues to overflow its banks, tributary rivers like the Elkhorn and the Niobrara in Nebraska and the Big White River in south-central South Dakota have also been featured on Facebook, showing swollen ice jams. With higher spring temperatures melting ice and snow, considerable water is also flowing over U. S. Highway 83 north of White River and other highways west. Seeing the Hidden Timber Dam washed out and debris across the Hidden Timber Road along with Rock Creek flooding near Klein School takes the wind out of one’s sails.

Semi tractor and trailer drivers are hauling thousands of big round bales of hay to destitute farmers and ranchers to feed their livestock. We may never know who the donors are. Readers have also posted and area newspapers have printed addresses where we can donate clothing, hygiene essentials, canned food, and other necessities to keep victims going as they wait for the water to recede and clean up to begin.

Many organizations able to receive flood victim donations are up and working. I’m told one of the most reliable is Orphan Grain Train, 606 West Philip, Norfolk, Nebraska 68701. Its phone number is 402-371-7393. Norfolk, NE is the site of its international headquarters, meaning it receives donations from and sends them to disaster victims worldwide. The receptionist told me any donations sent/offered to OGT that can’t be used locally are sent to disaster victims in other countries. That means whatever you can give will be graciously received by someone somewhere. It won’t set in the corner of a building someplace to rot.

And then there’s rot – river rot. With help from a March 17, 2019 Facebook post credited to Hannah Flaming, I read that livestock which survived the Bomb Cyclone or that were rescued continue to need food, water and medical care as rain rot (or river rot as one veterinarian so named it) has set in.

River rot happens after animals have stood or laid in water (usually cold and often contaminated with raw sewage and debris) too long to remain healthy. Animals submerged up to 48 hours will suffer mild rain/river rot. After 48 hours, they suffer from rain scald and, after 72 or more hours, animals will suffer from severe rain rot. River rot causes severe swelling of limbs, hair/fur to fall out, blister-like burns, hide loss, open sores and worse.

Animal shelters, veterinarians and livestock owners need antibiotics; anti-inflammatory medications; banamine; soft scrub brushes; silvadene or raw honey; bandages, wraps and boots; silver spray bandages; medicated washes; antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial sprays and conditioning creams/ointments, etc. Ask vet clinics what is needed before you buy products to send them or, better yet, donate money so livestock owners can buy what they need to save their animals. If you have been or currently are a vet or a vet technician, offer your assistance.

Troll the Internet to find websites that are taking donations, such as Cowboy 911, 999 Rescue Team, Nebraska (and Iowa and South Dakota too) Flood Alert pages, Scatter Joy Acres, Lusco Farms and Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief to find updates and requests. As one rancher put it, “Pick a town. Chances are you’re gonna find a whole lot of people who need help.”

A post from an anonymous Nebraska farm wife tells us even more:

It’s been a rough week. The flooding, the cold, the mud. It’s rough on us and it’s rough on our livestock. I’ve seen people who have lost all or most of their calves, cows, steers and bulls. Along with those that lost family pets, chickens, goats. sheep, horses, houses, buildings and equipment. It’s hard.  

It’s even harder when I see someone who says we deserved this, that we had it coming for raising animals that will someday be food, and that the only reason we’re sad is because of all the loss of dollars those animals represented.

I saw one comment like this. It was late, I was upset and tired, and I lashed out a little. But for anyone else who feels the need to say something like that, I will nip it in the bud here. If that is your mentality, please read the following:

Is ranching our livelihood? Yes. It’s how we make a living, so, yes, it has to turn a profit. It’s not a hobby, not something we do for fun. If a hobby is what we wanted, I would pick something that doesn’t require so much.

We are on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. And yet, many of us can’t make it. One or both of us work off the farm to keep it going. 

Just because we raise these animals that will someday be on someone’s plate, doesn’t mean that we do it without heart.  When we find the calf that didn’t make it, we don’t get to lock ourselves in the house and cry or drink our sorrows away.

Today, when we found two newborn calves freezing while laying on ice, we sat there with them warming them up and feeding them warm milk, finally leaving when we thought they would be okay long enough for us to go set up a warm room.

When we returned, one was dead. We didn’t get to shut down because there was still one that needed help.

Until you spend your days delivering calves hoping they are alive, finding cold calves and bringing them into your house/vehicle to warm them up, putting a cast on a calf’s broken leg, spending hours coaxing an orphan calf to suck, only to fail…

Until you get up every three hours to check your animals being prepared to find any of those scenarios …

Until you have to explain to your kids that the calf they named, cuddled with to keep warm, got up extra early to feed, played and bonded with has gotten sick and there was no way to save it …

Until you find your favorite cow (that always found you in the pasture knowing you had a treat for her) laying dead in the pasture because lightening struck her …

Until you sit over your checkbook stressed because you know that from here on out until the end of the year, everything has to go just perfect …

Until you spend time finding ways to skimp on household expenses so that you can still provide your animals with the proper feed, minerals, vet care and attention they deserve …

Until you do all of those things, and wake up the next morning and decide that you have enough strength to do it all over again, you can kindly kiss my butt.

People in agriculture don’t do this for a paycheck. We do it because it’s in our heart and blood. It’s everything to us. It’s our family, traditions and community. It’s how we show our children to care for one another, work hard and be responsible. It’s how we stay grounded, with the responsibility of not only feeding our family and friends, but people we’ve never met and with the responsibility of caring for the land and resources so that it will be here for generations to come.

So if you choose not to ingest animal products, that’s fine. Your choice. But do not sit there and say the only reason we are sad is because we’re going to be a few dollars short!

One more dated March 20 and credited to Gregg A. Smith:

Today marks one week since the start of the flooding, and every Nebraskan has had their life changed. Through all the destruction from record snowfall in the west to record flooding in the east, we here in Nebraska have carried on.

A slogan began to surface through it: “Nebraska Strong”. So what exactly is “Nebraska Strong”?

It’s ranchers literally digging their cattle and new born calves out of snow banks while a blizzard raged around them. It’s a neighbor with a boat helping a farmer load up hay and ferrying it out to a newly formed island where the farmer has cattle held up.

It’s a small town volunteer fire department risking their own safety to help people in trouble three or four towns away and losing three pieces of equipment to save a single family – equipment bought with simple donations and no big government help to replace.

It’s a person displaced from his own home, but he has a truck and is going to help others who are struggling to save theirs. It’s the story of people dropping off supplies to a local food pantry even though their own town has become an island with no roads in or out, and the local stores shelves are empty, just so those without can have food.

It’s people who aren’t affected as much loading up trucks and trailers with feed and hay and driving to devastated areas. Even if they don’t know where they are going or who needs the help, they know they will find someone who will need it.

It’s businesses putting together their own caravans of several semis loaded with groceries, fuel, and other supplies and finding a way to get them into neighboring flooded towns.

It’s pilots flying medical personnel at no charge in their privately-owned aircraft into towns with no roads in or out of them. It’s calls of assistance made for air boats to help ferry animals out of shelters out and getting way more boats then you need and having to literally turn people away.

It’s small town motels putting displaced families up for free. It’s vehicle repairs shops waiving labor costs to help get people’s flooded cars repaired. It’s traveling restaurants setting up shop and cooking meals for free to feed hungry people helping clean up a neighborhood.

It’s a man giving up his own life to attempt to save someone else he didn’t even know. It means there isn’t widespread looting because you don’t do that to other people.

It’s not asking for help because there might be someone else who needs the assistance more. But on the same note, you don’t refuse it if it just shows up. It means acting now because there isn’t time to wait for someone else to do it.

It’s calling and checking on your friends, family and neighbors every day just to make sure they are alright and, in the course of the conversation, still finding something to laugh about.

It’s not waiting on Washington DC to do something because taking care of our own isn’t their job. It’s ours. It’s realizing most of the rest of the world had no idea what was going on here for the first four or five days because we didn’t have time to be screaming and demanding someone to take care of us.

It’s hearing farmers, ranchers, and everyday people saying, “It is what it is,” instead of blaming the government or saying that the President hates white people, or black people or Hispanic people. It’s our story. It means we own whatever this is now, and we aren’t going anywhere.

It means that the new state tourism logo, “Nebraska; it isn’t for everyone” was more true than we all realized. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No, we say it never had a chance because we ARE Nebraska Strong, and “we got this.”

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (christian), Pahasapan, Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer.
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