Ranchers Helping Ranchers

Martha A. Hollida, Southern Livestock Standard

March 18, 2024

20240303_Smokehouse_Creek_SC_501

As we go to press, it’s been a little over two weeks since the Texas Panhandle became the heart-wrenching scene of fast moving and destructive fires. The Smokehouse Creek Fire, which started in Hutchinson County, has burned upwards of 1,075,000 acres and has been declared as the largest in Texas history. 

There are also other large grass fires and seven counties have been affected. Officials in Roberts County estimate 91 producers are affected and 90% of the 924 square miles of the county have burned. They project $60 million in economic loss over the next two years in grass alone in that one county. 

While donations, support and relief have poured into the area affected by these fires, the needs remain critical. Feed for surviving livestock continues to be one of the most needed supplies as the grasses are destroyed.

There are multiple drop points set up throughout the areas and multiple ways to contribute, including through various agricultural organizations such as Texas Farm Bureau, Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas AgriLife Extension, Independent Cattlemen’s Association, Working Ranch Cowboys Association, Texas Equine Veterinary Association and the like. In addition, there are other groups like Rancher Navy who are coordinating hay and fencing deliveries. 

No doubt all of us who are on social media have seen numerous relief efforts posted by 4-H clubs and FFA chapters, feed stores, local cattlemen’s organizations, quilting groups and many more. We’ve also seen countless posts about individuals/companies just feeling the need to help and with one post or text, multiple loads of supplies have been gathered, loaded and hauled to the affected areas. We are highlighting just a few accounts of heartwarming responses to this heart-wrenching event.

Randi Schauer, Bee County Extension Agent, Beeville, Texas

Like everyone else, people here were just shocked at the losses we were hearing about through the news and social media. Dane Elliott, who is on our Bee County Junior Livestock and Homemakers Board, had friends in the Panhandle. He decided almost immediately that he was going to take a load of supplies and put the word out he was collecting. Then, Devin Rios, who is on our 4-H Council, almost at the same time suggested 4-H do something. 

She put up flyers and the word started spreading. We had different places that said they would accept donations and supplies, including Blue Ribbon Country Store and Coastal Bend Feed. The fires started on Monday Feb. 26th and by the next day were quickly spreading as winds increased. By Friday morning, Dane was on his way with the first load. Another load has gone since and there may be more. It takes about $900 in fuel to do the round trip from here to the Panhandle and we’ve had donations come into support that side of it, also.

It’s been a huge group effort and people from outside our county have also contributed. It’s been very moving to see all this transpire.

Lindsay Utter, Justin, Texas and Ryon Cox, Mt. Pleasant, Texas

We never went to ground zero, so we didn’t see the full extent. We had friends who had moved their surviving cattle to their home place in Canyon, where they dry-lotted them. The three truckloads of hay and a few pallets of cubes we brought were delivered directly to them. They lost all their grass, so this is their feed source now. Even with last summer’s drought, we and many others were blessed with an abundance of hay that we could give to provide some relief to those who need it. But beyond the actual resources, the monetary contribution that people have made has been heartwarming. 

We had a total stranger pull up to us on the way and insist on fueling up the three trucks loaded with hay, all very low on fuel. Then we were flagged down driving down the road and we thought there was an issue with our load. We stopped and the person who flagged us walked up to our windows and handed us cash to help offset the cost of fuel. It just leaves you at a loss for words and it goes to show that there are still good people in this world, despite what you see or hear on the news.

Jeff and Andrea Reed, Williamsville, Missouri

The Reeds live in rural Missouri in the Ozarks. He is president-elect of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, and he began seeing news about the fire through MCA’s communications. 

On Sunday, March 4, Jeff called his wife, Andrea, and asked her what she thought about taking some hay to Canadian and with that, they travelled 700 miles one way, delivered 86 rolls on one semi and with two one-ton trucks. 

“We ended up direct dropping at a ranch north of Canadian, Texas,” said Jeff. “They had lost everything except the house, and they narrowly saved their cattle by stampeding them to one area that didn’t burn. But is way too small to sustain them. They have zero forage and won’t for the foreseeable future. They were down to their last few bales of a previous drop when we arrived.

“What we saw was shocking and so sad. The land is just sand now. There’s nothing left except some blackened, not fully burned trees. There were still lots of dead livestock in the fields and we saw many scrap metal hauling type trailers loaded with carcasses.

“It was heartbreaking, but also touching. As we were driving, people would honk their horns and mouth thank you to us. We had people blow us kisses to show their appreciation.” 

The Reeds encourage everyone to contribute as everything is needed and so appreciated. 

Shelby Baugh Smith, Gainesville, Texas

Cooke County 4-H worked with local businesses around the Gainesville area to collect hay, feed, fencing, and other needed supplies to deliver to the Texas Panhandle. Our kids, Brock, age 11, along with Marshall and Mattie, age 9, were eager to do something after praying for our friends in harm’s way at the onset. My husband, Matt, shared that we had collected donations in 2017 and along with friends, delivered several loads of hay from North Texas and we could do that again.

A Facebook-post later, a few texts, and some visits to local businesses, and the kids had quickly gathered five semi loads and four Gooseneck trailers full of supplies to deliver to the Canadian, Texas, drop point. 

On Saturday, March 3, a caravan of 9 trucks and trailers left Gainesville headed for the Panhandle. When we turned onto Hwy 83 in Childress, there were trucks loaded down with round bales as far as you could see. We have taken our kids to do a lot of cool things in their short lives, but this tops the list.

On the back of one load, “Rancher to Rancher” “Texan to Texan” was written on a cardboard sign. It summed up the day perfectly. Pulling into Canadian, the feedstore was full of volunteers and truck drivers alike. Calls were coming in and the hay lot was empty. Many were feeling defeated, until just before lunch when the trucks started rolling in.  We had several trucks that offloaded with skid steers, sometimes three to a trailer, in the yard. Others were led by volunteers to do direct drops at local ranches. Everyone was jumping in to do whatever they could, and the sense of community was like nothing I had ever experienced.

We saw other trucks headed home empty and the drivers were honking and waving from across the highway, as if to give a high-five. We saw strangers buying fuel for drivers. Local residents in the affected communities were pulling up and handing out cash or offering to help unstrap a trailer full of hay and supplies. We saw neighbors buying meals for tables full of truck drivers, a local banker volunteering to jump in and operate a tractor, while ranchers receiving hay were off fighting a fire that flared up across town. God has truly used this tragedy to bring people together to help those they will never meet.

Southern Livestock

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