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That resilience will be needed in the coming year, Christen said.
“This is going to test the management ability of the best and most seasoned ranchers, let alone the younger ones trying to get started,” she said. “We are extremely concerned about the mental health of ranchers — seeing their entire life’s work dead in a ditch.”
Richard Rausch’s parents homesteaded on Lower Spring Creek Road more than six decades ago. Near his home, winter wheat and sunflower fields line rolling hills of prairie grass. Going west, you can see the silhouette of Mount Rushmore. And when the sun goes down, you can hear the yelps of coyotes.
Here, Rausch said, you witness the cycle of life and death.
“Being able to see new life in the spring and care for livestock — it’s hard to put words on that,” he said.
For Bishop, ranching is a way of life that often means rising before the sun and working after it goes down. It means risk — every day of every year — that a disaster could strike and wipe it all out.
It also means small comforts — an Australian shepherd at his side, neighbors who have stepped forward to help, a reliable pickup truck filled with leather gloves and country-music CDs.
For now, he is focused on a calf that has twice seen tragedy. Earlier this year, it lost its mother during a heat wave and was joined with another cow. The pair was out to pasture when the storm came in. The calf survived, but its new mother was dead.
On a recent evening, the calf ambled toward him and latched onto a half-gallon bottle of milk, aggressively sucking as white, foamy drool dripped from its lips.
“We want healthy land and animals and to take care of them the best we can,” he said. “Sometimes the odds are against us. There’s nothing you can do. And that makes you feel pretty helpless.”
When Bishop married his wife, Kerry, he told her there would be no naming animals.
“You get too attached,” he said.
The storm has been a reminder of that original independent streak.
“Do you see how many animals are still alive?” he asked. “No matter how hard Mother Nature tried, she didn’t kill them all, and we’re going to come back.”
He pets the calf before closing the barn door.
He has named her Susan.