Organizational skills put to good use: feeding cattle
The devastating Cold Springs and Pearl Hill fires wiped out not just homes and other structures, but also consumed hay pastures, stored feed, grazing land – and hundreds of head of livestock.
The surviving animals needed to eat – and there was precious little hay left for thousands of head of cattle in Okanogan and surrounding counties.
But within a few days, life-saving hay donations and other assistance began to arrive from many directions to help area ranchers.
In the Methow Valley, a heretofore unlikely collaboration between a dog rescue organization and a local hay grower started small but quickly escalated into a major operation that has moved hundreds of tons of hay to the other side of the county.
Thanks to some logistical miracle-working, generous donations and selfless volunteerism, OkanDogs – a Cashmere-based nonprofit whose main mission is to facilitate dog adoptions in the Okanogan County area – has played a major role in keeping cattle fed the past couple of weeks.
Coordinating that effort in the Methow Valley, with lots of volunteer assistance, is valley resident Penelope Varn, a community outreach director for OkanDogs.
OkanDogs’ intent is simple: to buy and distribute hay to those in need. Varn said the organization is on track to deliver about 1,000 tons of hay to fire-impacted areas by the middle of next week.
“We are on the ground, finding the ranchers who are in dire need and trucking it to them,” Varn said. “With the continued support of our donors, I would not be surprised if we meet or exceed half the government’s projected hay aid for all of Okanogan County within a month. The government hay aid, on the other hand, won’t materialize until late December, most likely.”
Although there are costs associated with moving big shipments of hay – trucks, gas, drivers, loaders and unloaders – all donations to the OkanDogs hay fund were used to purchase hay, Varn said.
“We have not had to pay one cent to get hay from the source to the ranchers in need, because of very generous volunteers,” Varn said.
More than 200 tons of that hay was purchased from Moccasin Lake Ranch, a sprawling working ranch on Patterson Lake Road owned by longtime Methow Valley benefactors Jim and Gaye Pigott. The money to purchase that hay came from the Moccasin Lake Foundation, a nonprofit administered by the Pigotts that supports a variety of community-based causes.
Varn said the need became evident almost immediately after the fires started and quickly spread. OkanDogs’ involvement was precipitated by an OkanDogs volunteer, Tiffany Wisdom, who lost all of her hay and put out feelers for acquiring feed, Varn said. Summer Huckaby of Rock Island, another OkanDogs volunteer, was also buying hay, or procuring donated hay, and rounding up volunteers to get feed to ranchers in the burned areas, Varn said.
“We realized there were a lot of starving animals out there,” Varn said. OkanDogs President Tom Short asked Varn if she could get hay for people who needed it. “Tom Short gave us marching orders,” Varn said.
The first smaller loads that OkanDogs purchased from Moccasin Lake Ranch were pickup truck loads that Varn, Annie Budelisech and her husband Bob Levy piled onto their rigs. They went to the Okanogan County Fairgrounds, where some injured animals were also being tended to. Varn continued to buy hay from the ranch, and asked ranch manager Steve Tomschin for a bill.
“Jim [Pigott] originally got involved with this because he saw me buying and transporting hay from Moccasin Lake, a little at a time, and finally found out what I was doing from his ranch manager [Tomschin],” Varn said. “Out at the haystacks, Jim said to me, ‘if Moccasin Lake were to donate this hay to help people who need it, who would be the ones to get it to those people?’ I said to him, ‘that would be me. That would be us — OkanDogs.’”
The next day, Pigott called Varn to tell her that the Moccasin Lake Foundation would donate enough money to OkanDogs to pay for the hay on his ranch that the organization was purchasing.
“We have good hay here,” Pigott said in an interview. “We thought, if we can help these people now, let’s do it.”
Pigott said he identifies with the farmers. “It’s fun for me to be a part of this,” he said. The Pigotts even accompanied one of the bigger deliveries, to Brewster-area rancher Dale Smith, and got a first-hand look at the fire damage.
Pigott said he was impressed with how efforts were coordinated to procure the hay, and round up drivers to get it where it’s needed. The Moccasin Lake bales are supersized, 1,300 to 1,500 pounds each, so heavy equipment is required for loading and unloading.
Early on, hay shipments went to the fairgrounds but “it became evident they wouldn’t be capable of handling everything that was coming in,” Pigott said. The call went out for more hauling capacity, and the Methow Valley promptly responded.
Bob Lloyd of Lloyd Logging Company was instrumental in lining up others to help, Varn said. “Bob coordinated all the drivers,” she said. “We told him who needed the hay, and he scheduled it.”
Companies that also provided transport for the loads included McHugh Excavating, Brandenburg Construction, Palm Construction, Haase Excavating, Wildcat Excavation, CWH and B&B Excavating. Drivers included Dennis Gardner, Bob Lloyd, Max Judd, Justin McMillan, Mike Scarsella, Paul Darwood, Keith Strickland, Paul Soodak, Al Oosterhof, Aaron Buzzard and Don Maples. Also assisting with deliveries were Christina Cline, a local farrier, and Toby, Tammy and Jake Pennock of Pennock Excavation, Varn said.
“These guys stepped up in the heart of a busy [construction] season … they devoted time to hauling the hay and absorbing all the costs,” Pigott said. “Everybody’s doing it with a smile.”
“Our goal up until now was to get every rancher in need set up with two weeks of hay, but with some of the bigger operations, that is a very tall order,” Varn said.
The response at the receiving end has been more than gratifying. “They’re so relieved when we come, and so thankful,” Varn said of the ranchers. “They needed hay fast. They’ve got cattle going hungry.”
Varn said OkanDogs hopes to buy third-cutting hay from Moccasin Lake as well. OkanDogs’ efforts will shift to smaller ranches that still need assistance, Varn said. “We will continue to do this until we can’t,” Varn said. “At least we’re buying the ranchers some time.”
“We’ll need every bit of it to get [ranchers] through the winter,” she added. Then next spring, ranchers will be looking for viable rangeland that wasn’t burned beyond use.
“Everybody’s been just wonderfully generous,” Varn said of the valley’s volunteers. “We haven’t had anyone say no.”
“That’s the Methow,” Pigott said. “Somebody needs help, you do it.”