From Floods – Family, Friends and Fellowship Triumphed: Fellow Brangus Breeders Impacted by Hurricane Harvey
by IBBA Assistant to the Executive Vice President Yvonne “Bonnie” Ramirez
Two words: Hurricane Harvey.
Those words have an astounding resonation. Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane with a top wind speed of 132 mph, as recorded in Port Aransas, Texas. Harvey rampaged through South Texas and Louisiana claiming lives, homes, schools, businesses, pets and livestock, just to name a few. Human lives were lost, and people’s livelihoods were washed away within a matter of hours. There were at least 72 fatalities as a result of Harvey. More than 210,700 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to the Associated Press. Harvey has been regarded as one of the worst natural disasters to strike the United States in recorded history. The economic impacts of this storm are yet to be determined. According to CNN, Harvey is the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Hurricane Charley in 2004. Hurricane Harvey is the first major hurricane to strike South Texas since Celia in 1970. Hurricane Harvey is the first hurricane to strike the Texas Coast since Ike in 2008.
Hurricane Harvey raged through cities and took homes, business, schools, and so much more in its path. Many people, pets and livestock were displaced. Numerous lost everything they had. Hurricane Harvey, without a doubt, wreaked havoc along the Texas Coast.
According to a Forbes contributed article, the amount of rainfall that fell on parts of Southeast Texas set a new record of 51.88 inches, breaking the former record of 48 inches, which was set in 1978. Currently, Harvey is believed to exceed that of any other flood event in the continental U.S. of the past 1,000 years, according to an analysis by the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies and Dr. Shane Hubbard.
Unfortunately, agricultural communities are all too often prone to a number of risks, including natural disasters. Aug. 25 is a day that many Texans will never forget. The floods not only impacted human health, they impacted livestock health, as well.
It has been reported that Texas agricultural officials fear thousands of cattle may have died as a result of Harvey’s influence. Ranchers may potentially face losses that could run into the tens of millions of dollars, reports announce. The counties that sustained the most damage when Harvey first came ashore were home to 1.2 million head of cattle. That is representative of one in four of all beef cows in Texas. Texas is the nation’s largest producer.
“This is going to hurt,” said Robert Vineyard, DDS, owner of Vineyard Cattle Company and a retired dentist from Wharton. “This is going to hurt Texas a lot! Wharton County is one of the largest beef-producing cattle counties in Texas. It is, also, ranked high for its cotton and grain production. Wharton County lost a lot of ag commodities. It’s terrible. It looks like a bomb went off. It’s going to hurt economically,” Vineyard added. “It’s going to hurt agriculture. There’s a lot of people hurting. In two days, facilities were destroyed that have been here for decades. It’s going to hurt.”
“Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) inspectors who responded during Hurricane Harvey used various tools and technology to geolocate lost or deceased cattle,” said TAHC Public Information Officer Thomas Swafford. “Tools that were literally in the palm of their hand. They were able to use apps on their smartphones that allowed them to take photos with the GPS coordinates attached and could tie into a map feature, providing them with instant directions to where the photo was taken later on.”
“The TAHC acted as a central hub of information regarding all animals that were affected during Hurricane Harvey,” added Swafford. “Our Animal Response Operations Coordination Center was activated and staffed with various agency partners representing small animals all the way to the federal level with USDA-APHIS. Field crews set up incident command points in some of the hardest hit areas where they were able to conduct animal assessments in over 40 counties.”
The cleanup and recovery for Hurricane Harvey will be an ongoing effort for months to come. When disaster strikes in the form of a natural disaster such as a Hurricane Harvey; not only were human lives at risk, ranches were, too. For many, ranches are their livelihood, and they are threatened when hurricanes hit.
“All but about 300 acres of our 4,000-acre ranch was under water,” said Matt Willey, Mike Doguet’s son-in-law. Matt oversees the Nome, Texas, location, which is the headquarters of Doguet’s Diamond D Ranch. Nome has a population of about 588, and it is 20 miles from Beaumont. Willey, also, owns L Ray Ranch with his wife, Michelle. “By under water, I mean anywhere from one foot to five feet under water on almost the entire ranch,” said Matt. “The water came so fast. Nome was kind of an island.”
Even though they were heavily impacted by Hurricane Harvey, the Doguets were fortunate in experiencing only minimal loss. “We were very lucky,” Willey exclaimed. He shared that sentiment many different times throughout the interview. “We did not lose one cow during the storm,” Willey added. They did a lot of work for a lot of days to accomplish that feat; but all said and done, it was worth it for the Doguet ranches in Beaumont and Nome. “We moved everything we had on this ranch for two days straight,” Willey said. “The first day we probably moved about 200 head, which is about half of the herd, to higher ground – or what we thought was higher ground.” The morning after they moved half of the herd, Matt received a call from Mike Doguet at 4 a.m. “I got a phone call from Mike saying that overnight the water had come up about another two-to-three-feet over the entire ranch.” Mike told Willey, “If we are going to save [the cattle], we got to get going pretty quick.” They waited until sunlight to get boots on the ground and start moving the remainder of the cattle to higher and safer ground. “Next thing you know, I was getting picked up by the biggest tractor we had,” Willey stated. “You couldn’t get out with a truck. The water was about three-feet-deep by then.” The crew made their way to the highway, got on horseback, and then they started working on cutting fences to let cattle out of the pastures. “By the end of the day we had moved all the cattle we had to about 300 acres.” That translates to 400-450 head of cattle packed into 300 acres of somewhat-dry land. The cattle work was done by tractor and horseback mostly. “We had to swim some out,” Willey mentioned. “We had an aluminum boat that we ended up launching right from our driveway.” Doguet’s staff made make-shift halters and anything needed to get the job done.
Doguet’s Diamond D Ranch ended up receiving approximately 50-60 inches of rain in a mere three days. According to Willey, most of that rainfall came at night. “This [Hurricane Harvey] was the highest flood waters anybody in our area has ever seen,” Willey stated. The ranch did end up having a hay loss of about 300 Tifton round bales. They had only done one cutting of the hay field prior to the storm. Two weeks after the rain ceased, the Doguet Diamond D Ranch crew had to treat about 140 calves and 40 cows for pneumonia.
Vineyard Cattle Company was fortunate, too, not to suffer a huge loss. “I was lucky,” Vineyard said. “My office didn’t get hurt. My house didn’t get hurt. It was just my ranch.” Two-thirds of Vineyard’s 1,500-acre ranch was covered in water. The ranch was three-to-four-feet under water, and cattle were belly deep in it. “We opened gates, went in on tractors, and called in our cattle to headquarters,” said Vineyard, who runs about 400 head of mostly registered Brangus cattle, with some commercial Brangus cattle. “Some of them I couldn’t get to.” They had about 300 head of cattle on 50 acres. “It was that way for a week,” Vineyard said. Though they didn’t get the brunt of the havoc Hurricane Harvey wreaked, Vineyard did lose eight calves due to calving season, and several of his fences were demolished. “We won’t know the complete devastation [of Harvey] for another six-to-nine months,” Vineyard added. As of early October, Vineyard said they had not taken inventory. “Our cattle went through a lot of stress. We were finally able to put up enough temporary fences to get the cattle back in pastures. We were giving them the month of September to try to regain their strength and get back to normal,” Vineyard said. “Here soon, in October, we will start giving them their fall workout of vaccinations and everything else. We will also do inventory at that time.”
Joe Jones, general manager of Briggs Ranches, echoed Vineyard’s and Willey’s sentiments, saying, “We were very, very fortunate that we didn’t lose anymore than what we lost.” That thought was definitely the consensus amongst the three Texas ranches. Briggs Ranches is comprised of three ranches, and they run about 1500-2500 head of cattle between the three. On their headquarters in Victoria, Texas, they run registered Brangus cattle. Their journey with Brangus started about five years ago. The Briggs Ranch headquarters suffered some loss of cattle that were on the Guadalupe River and one stud horse. The property damages included four barns that were totally destroyed, according to Jones; three damaged homes, one of which was extensively damaged; and several trees down and many trees over fences. “This [Hurricane Harvey] is one of the worst storms I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been through several hurricanes in my lifetime,” Jones said. “The water came up almost as high as when it flooded in 1998.” They were without power for 12 days. “I’ve been through about four hurricanes,” Jones commented, “and this is the longest we have been without power while I’ve lived in the Gulf Coast area.”
Mike Doguet, owner of Doguet Diamond D Ranch, received tons of phone calls asking if they needed feed and supplies. It sparked the idea of setting up a distribution point at the Doguet Turf Farm in Nome. They had the equipment to load and unload supplies; it only made sense for them to help their fellow ranchers in need. Texas Equine Veterinary Association (TEVA) Executive Director Sara Green is a longtime Brangus friend, and she was one of the first to call and offer aid. Willey said donations were in abundance from people everywhere, far and near, alike. They had hay coming in from Michigan and Tennessee. “It was amazing,” Willey said. “The first day of the drop-off location being open, we handed out 1,100 square bales and 400 round bales.” Doguet’s was able to help people in three counties: Jefferson County, Hardin County, and some of Chambers County. Supplies received and provided at the donation drop-off location ranged from lead ropes to halters to chicken feed to goat feed to alfalfa to cattle feed to coastal hay. “The supplies donated weren’t just your run of the mill feed items. It was good-quality hay and feed that people were sending to us, and they never batted an eye about it,” Willey said. “[Donations weren’t] wasted; everything had a home.”
“We intend to continue helping our veterinary community until they tell us they don’t need it. We know many of these communities are years away from normal life.” Green added, “We intend to support veterinarians, and through them, the animals and people of the small towns that are suffering, as well as the bigger cities.”
Green, also, says many agree that the success of this relief effort has certainly been enhanced by the availability of social media and cell phones. She added that TEVA member, Sam Williamson, DVM, of Victoria, Texas, acknowledged that some storm problems were seemingly unrelenting but knows that things could have been worse for his clinic and clients, with most animals in his area weathering well. Dr. Williamson credited communication advances for making evacuations easier.
Willey gained a lot of respect for the animals during this ordeal. “It’s like the animals knew what to do,” he said. “Horses were deep in high water, and it’s like the cattle knew we were there to help. I tell you what, after being in nonstop rain to that extent for that amount of time, you get a new respect for life in general, and I’m talking about the animals, trees, plants – everything!”
“The world doesn’t look so pretty all the time on TV and the media that’s going on now, but there’s a lot of inspiration in these hard times,” Willey exclaimed. From text messages to phone calls to Facebook and Instagram comments or messages, Willey was receiving them by the dozens. “It was very humbling – all the support that we received,” Willey proclaimed. “It sure means a lot when everything looks real dark; there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” The emotional support that Doguet’s received during this scary event was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.
The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey involves efforts of “things slowly getting back to normal,” Willey said. “There’s a problem with army worms, but a lot of people are back at it. We will start weaning and gearing up to get ready for breeding season.”
“I’ve been in the cow business for 46 years, and I have never experienced something like this,” Vineyard stated. “[Hurricane Harvey impacts are] just a shame. You feel so bad for all the people who worked themselves to death to get what they had and then their homes were gone overnight,” The longtime Brangus breeder, dating back to 1972, said. “It’s just terrible. It’s heartbreaking.”
“[Seeing the aftermath in person brings] it to a whole new level to see the devastation that’s here,” Jones said. “People have lost everything they had. The devastation is pretty bad. It’ll take a long time to rebuild a lot of this,” Jones said.
Despite the devastation that came from Hurricane Harvey, Texans prevailed! From the rubble, Texans [and Americans] rallied together and rushed to help fellow friends, neighbors, ranchers and strangers in need. It never fails, when tragedy strikes, mankind reveals their selflessness as they unite to render aid to one another. From the floods – family, friends and fellowship triumphed! Our continued thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the terrible storms that changed the lives of human kind worldwide.