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Helicopters drop hay from the air to save thousands of California cattle starving in the snow

Lauren Sizemore, a rancher from Kneeland, California, knew a storm was coming, but she didn’t realize it would be this big. Her ranch is home to some 300 head of cattle that have been trapped by a historic snowfall, unable to access food.

“It is absolutely heartbreaking to know that we have cattle that we cannot reach. It’s causing a lot of sleepless nights,” he said, “but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

On Monday and Tuesday, the remote ranch of Sizemore, an hour from Eureka, received airdropped bales of hay as part of an emergency operation by local officials.

His animals’ location trackers allowed Sizemore, 37, to provide the exact coordinates of where to leave the bales.

She is grateful for the network of helpers and officials that have sprung up to help ranchers and their cattle. You are now waiting for enough snow to melt so that you can assess your losses.

“Traditionally, we get snow maybe once or twice in winter, but this year it’s just been one storm after another, and it’s never really warmed up enough to melt snow at lower elevations,” said Tran Beyea, a spokesman for California. . Humboldt-Del Norte Unit of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“The ranch lands that usually start to green up are now covered in snow, deep snow,” he said. The problem is compounded because ranchers often look for calves to be born in early spring to ensure there is enough fresh grass for them to eat.

The calves “are now being born in freezing conditions,” Beyea said, with her “snow-covered food.”

Humboldt County Supervisor Michelle Bushnell, a rancher herself, began reaching out to others as the snow piled up, asking about her cattle.

“We can’t find them, there’s too much snow,” a rancher told him.

“There is no grass” for them to feed on, said another.

Officials devised a system: Ranchers collect surplus hay and drop it off at the Rohnerville airport near Fortuna, where staff from the Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services and the Sheriff’s Office help load it onto helicopters. .

Two helicopters from Cal Fire and two from other agencies then distribute the hay, about eight bales at a time, to about 35 ranches in Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. In total, the fate of some 2,500 head of cattle hangs in the balance.

“It’s terrible up here with the animals and the snowpack,” Bushnell said, thanking the various agencies that came together to make the hayfalls possible.

“As long as the weather conditions remain cold and the snowdrifts don’t melt, the mission will continue,” Beyea said.

Once the roads are cleared, ranchers can begin to take stock. “We know the cattle are dying,” Bushnell said, but he expects many animals to be saved as a result of the supply missions.

Due to the extremely poor weather, Sizemore said his ranch expects much higher mortality rates among recently born calves. Poor nutrition in stranded cattle will also affect future reproduction.

The rancher expects her cattle to be affected for the next 18 months.