Cattle pulled to safety after falling through ice

A northern Alberta family that spent four hours pulling cattle from an icy dugout warns other producers to fence their dugouts.

The final outcome was a broken hand and one dead animal.

Peggy Johnson said she was moving bales when her cattle spied the open gate into the corrals and started racing through it toward the dugout.

She followed them across the field in the tractor and was just in time to see the splash as 15 animals ran into the middle of the dugout and fell through the ice.

“It’s just plain ugly. It was just awful,” said Johnson, who farms near Fairview.

Luckily, Johnson’s daughter and son-in-law, Jackie and Jake Gour, had just driven into the yard for a visit and were able to help pull out the cattle and phone for more help.

Jake was able to ease out onto the ice and toss a lariat onto the necks of the cattle treading water in the middle of the dugout. Johnson then pulled them over the edge of the ice and out of the dugout with the tractor.

The first cow that was pulled out ran away before they could get the lariat off its neck. It was a frantic scene as cows thrashed in the dugout and others wanted to get to the water for a drink.

“My daughter said, ‘just settle down,’ ” said Johnson.

They all took a breath, chased the cow with the lariat into the corral and continued to pull out cattle.

A neighbour arrived with a backhoe and tried to smash the ice near the edge, but it was too thick.

By this time, Johnson’s husband, Steve, had arrived and started to help by attaching another rope to the cattle and pulling it out with the back hoe. That rope snapped and whipped back, breaking his hand.

“I feel really bad for Steve. He’s got a few weeks getting his hand back working,” she said.

Johnson estimated the last two animals to be pulled out were treading water for about an hour and a half and were unable to walk when they were pulled out.

The family eventually dried the cattle by draping a tarp over them and blasting them with warm air from a heater. A tarp strap was slipped under the cattle once they were warmed up and they were lifted with the front-end loader until the circulation in their legs returned and they were able to walk away.

One weanling steer calf died.

“It could have been so much worse,” said Johnson.

“We did manage. It was quite a day.”

The cattle had been locked out of the corrals a week earlier after a few animals broke through the edge of the ice. Johnson didn’t know the cattle would be so determined to get back into the corrals.

“I left the stupid gate open. I could just kick my butt.”

The temperature had risen to 3 C Nov. 29, the day of the accident. Johnson doesn’t know if the warmer weather softened the ice and created a weak spot where the cattle fell through.

The family spent the next day putting portable panels around the dugout to keep the cattle away.

Johnson said they have talked about fencing around the dugout for years, but never did it. However, it will be done next year.

“If someone else can learn from my stupid mistakes, I’d be happy,” she said.

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