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“It’s hard to find a market that is more emotionally charged than the one we’ve been in year to date, with so many disruptions,” said Don Close of Rabo AgriFinance during BEEF Magazine’s 2019 Beef Market Outlook on March 27. 2019 started with projections

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

After snowstorms and rain, with deep snow melting in many areas of the Midwest, more than a dozen rivers have flooded, especially along the Nebraska and Iowa border.  

Flooding is severe because of heavy snow accumulations earlier this year, followed by sudden rise in temperatures. Snow melt, ice jams and rainfall washed away roads and bridges, hindering travel and isolating some communities.

John Wilson of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln says several places were severely impacted.  Some of these areas went through serious flooding a few years ago, especially along the Missouri River.  

“The damage was more concentrated at that time, along that corridor, but not so bad a few miles farther away – depending on how far the river went out of its banks. The flooding this spring is over the whole eastern half of the state and includes Iowa and Missouri,” he says.

Winter weather

“We had an open winter in January, with above-normal temperatures, then it turned cold and started snowing,” Wilson says. “We had the eighth coldest February on record, since 1895. The ground was frozen, and the snow got deep and didn’t melt.”

He continues, “Then, we got rain and rapid melt. It was the perfect line-up of things that could go wrong to create the flood.”

“Many people got hit with the flood right in the middle of calving season, so that was a problem, along with the loss of pasture. Some of pastures are silted over and buried in debris,” Wilson says. “There have been some huge losses.”

Anecdotal reports

Wilson says he has heard reports from near the South Dakota border in Nebraska where a dam that feeds into the Missouri River broke. 

“The flood washed out the dam.  The rancher had about 250 cows that were soon to calve, and he was going to lead them to higher ground.  He went out to their pasture with his tractor and a round bale to lead them to higher ground,” Wilson says. 

The cattle were following the rancher, when he looked back to see a wall of water coming at them, right after the dam broke. 

“He dropped the bale and got out of there as fast as he could with the tractor.  He got away from the water, but it swept away all 250 cows,” Wilson says. “In the days following, they found dead cattle for miles downstream.”

Continued impacts

The flooding isn’t over, with more rain in the forecast, Wilson adds. 

“With all the rain in the Dakotas, some of that snow pack will be melting and coming downstream.  Many places still had one to two feet of snow in late March.  Whatever doesn’t drain into the Red River will be coming our direction,” he says.

With all the mud and moisture, there is concern for diseases like foot rot, pneumonia, mastitis, etc. Wilson emphasizes the stress these cattle have gone through makes them more vulnerable to many diseases.  

Feed impacts

Feed supplies have also been damaged.

“Hay was scarce to begin with, just because of the deep snow we had earlier. Fall pastures were snowed under, and ranchers couldn’t run cattle on cornstalks as long as they wanted to,” he explains. “They had to supplement hay and tried to find hay.  Hay is even more scarce now, with the floodwater damaging a lot of what was left.”

“I recently talked with a guy who runs a dehydrator plant, processing alfalfa hay into pellets, and it is situated right along a creek that goes through our county,” Wilson says. “He had 700 round bales of alfalfa plus a large pile that had already been ground up, and all of that has been ruined by the flood.”

Now, the challenge is disposing of damaged feed products. 

Another property on Logan Creek had piles of cornstalks, stored for feed this spring, but all the feed was washed away and is caught in fence lines bordering his fields, Wilson says.

There were many cornstalks floating around in the flood, jamming into and taking out a lot of fences. 


Country roads were also damaged.  

“A road near my place now has gullies in it several feet deep. Where the main track was and the ground firmer, we can still see the gravel, but on each side of those tracks, the softer ground washed away. It will be a huge expense to the county to repair these roads,” he says.

Fortunately, there were no highways in Wilson, Neb. area that washed out. However, the rest of the state hasn’t been so lucky. 

One of the larger communities south of Lincoln was isolated for almost three days because all the highways leading in were impassible or washed out or a bridge had washed out.  

“Finally, the National Guard sent a convoy with big trucks to bring in groceries because the store shelves were bare.  About one-quarter of the town itself flooded, with terrible damage to infrastructure,” he says.


Farmers and ranchers in many parts of the state were unable to get to some of their animals to feed them. Some of the available feed is no longer safe for livestock to eat.  

“Anything that was exposed to floodwater now has to be destroyed, according to our Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.  Ranchers can burn it if it’s on their own ground or a contiguous piece of ground, but they can’t haul it five miles down the road to another piece they own to burn it there,” according to Wilson.

Feedstuffs that can’t be burned may be disposed of via composting, or they must be hauled to landfills.   

“This is a huge expense,” says Wilson.

Livestock health

Nutritional stress is going to be a big problem for many animals.  

“Some cattle in various parts of the state are now isolated because of roads and bridges out, and people can’t get feed to them,” Wilson reported. “In some places, livestock don’t have access to water now that the snow has melted and the floodwater receded.”  

Some water sources may also be contaminated.  

Feedlot operations have a problem with lagoons full and overflowing.  

Wilson says, “It’s too wet to pump manure and spread it on the fields, so this will be another challenge.”

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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