Another snowstorm takes aim at hard-hit Colorado


Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 11:43 p.m.

DENVER — The third snowstorm in as many weeks swept into Colorado on Friday, further hampering efforts to restore power to rural homes and rescue thousands of cattle stranded by last week's blizzard.

Several school districts canceled classes Friday because of blowing snow in the region, where the last storm had whipped up 10-foot drifts and shut down highways.

In Kansas and Nebraska, about 10,000 homes were still without power after more than a week, and the new storm was headed their way after dumping nearly a foot of snow in the foothills west of Denver. In hard-hit southeastern Colorado, no more than 1 inch of new snow was expected, but the high wind was making road clearing difficult.

Agriculture officials, meanwhile, were still trying to figure out how deal with the carcasses of thousands of livestock that were killed by the blizzard or starved, said Jery Bailey, emergency management director in Haskell County, Kan.

"Our foremost thing is to try to save human lives, but now we have the economic thing too with feedlots and animals," Bailey said. "This has been a nightmare."

An estimated 3,500 cattle are believed to have died on rangeland in six southeastern Colorado counties alone, said Leonard Pruett, the region's agriculture extension agent for Colorado State University.

Owners of feedlots, where range cattle are taken before slaughter, were still calculating their losses.

Luke Lind, a vice president of Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, which has 10 feedlots in Colorado, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, said the mortality rate could be "significant," but he declined to give specific numbers. Five Rivers had 60,000 cattle in pens in the Lamar, Colo., area alone, he said.

In a massive effort to save stranded rangeland cattle, the Colorado National Guard conducted a three-day airlift that dropped about 3,000 hay bales to herds spotted on the rangeland. While that likely have saved livestock, the survivors still face the threat of fatal lung infections related to the stress of the storm and dehydration, Pruitt said.

The cold, windy conditions Friday could hurt early-season calves, as well, he said.

"The mother cows out there are in good shape," Pruitt said. "We had plenty of grass in the summer and fall, so they went into the storm in good condition and that makes all the difference in the world. But they're not going to stay in good condition without getting some feed because they're going downhill pretty rapidly."

In Washington, Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave on Friday introduced bills to help speed financial aid to ranchers who have lost livestock in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Among the many effects of the blizzards, the price of hay has jumped from $150 a ton to $210 a ton, and much grazing land is still inaccessible, Pruett said. Ranchers will depend more on hay and other supplemental feed to keep livestock alive because the grass they normally eat is buried in snow, he said.

In a rare piece of good news, the snow was expected to help the winter wheat crop.

Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Adrian Polonsky said the moisture will be "very beneficial to getting the crop off to a good start."

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