Amid the extensive flooding in Nebraska and across the Midwest, farms, ranches, and feedlots have seen damages that will likely be far in the millions. Preliminary estimates of the overall damage in Nebraska are about $650 million. But it's important to remember that the damage is ongoing, and that's why the Nebraska National Guard delivered hay by air and land on March 25.
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The flooding has hit farm country hard, with some ranchers reporting that they watched cattle float away, powerless to save their livestock or their livelihoods. But plenty of cattle have survived, and keeping the survivors healthy and fed will be essential to rebuilding herds without the astronomical costs of buying and shipping in cows from other parts of the country.
But there's a problem for ranchers and feedlot owners: Hay and other feed that gets too wet is dangerous to feed to cattle. Mold can quickly grow in wet hay, and the chemical processes that take place in wet hay can quickly deplete it of nutritional value or, in extreme cases, create fires.
(Yeah, we know it sounds weird that getting hay wet can start a fire. In the broadest possible strokes: Wet hay composts in a way that generates lots of heat. The heat builds enough to dry some of the outer hay and then ignite it, then fire spreads.)
Cows fed affected hay, at best, can become malnourished. At worst, they are poisoned by the mold.
(Nebraska Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Shannon Nielsen)
So, when ranchers and farmers in Nebraska reported that they had some cows safe from the floods and rain, but they were susceptible to becoming malnourished or poisoned by the only feed available, the National Guard planned a way to get fresh, safe hay to them.
Deliveries were conducted via helicopters and truck convoy, getting the feed past flooded roads and terrain and into the farms where it can do some good. In some cases, CH-47 Chinooks are rolling massive bales of hay off their back cargo ramps, essentially bombing areas with fresh hay. This allows them to reach areas where cattle might be trapped and starving, but even ranchers can't yet reach.
Hopefully, this will ameliorate some of the damages from the storms. But the storms have already hit military installations hard and, as mentioned above, are thought to have caused over half a billion in economic damages.
So the toll is going to be rough regardless.