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In northern California, stranded cows are getting emergency hay drops

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

California has been buried by record-breaking snowfall this winter, and some parts of the state that rarely see much snow have gotten loads of it.

MICHELLE BUSHNELL: Every single morning, it's another foot. It's like this ultimate "Groundhog Day."

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Humboldt County Supervisor Michelle Bushnell is a cattle rancher in the far north of the state. She says lots of cows in the area are going hungry because of all the snow.

BUSHNELL: The cows have absolutely no feed - no grass. There's no grass showing.

SHAPIRO: She started calling around to check in on local ranchers.

BUSHNELL: One rancher said, I haven't been able to get to my cows for eight days. I haven't been able to get my - to my cows for five days. And then I called our sheriff - our local sheriff, and I said, you've got to help. We've got to do something here.

WILLIAM HONSAL: What she told me is that she talked to a rancher. His name's John Rice. And they said, in the '80s, there was a similar snowfall, and the Coast Guard actually flew hay out to some of the remote ranches.

CHANG: Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal says he then called up the Coast Guard to ask if they could fly hay to hungry cows. And by midday Sunday, Operation Hay Drop was a go.

SHAPIRO: Rancher Robert Puga raises purebred Angus cattle in neighboring Trinity County. He says he was eager for the help.

ROBERT PUGA: I said, absolutely. Put us on the list. I'm running out of hay fast, and the cattle are in bad shape.

CHANG: The state's firefighting agency joined in, too. Along with the Coast Guard, they gathered the coordinates of stranded herds, then helicopter out, looking for cows. Here's Sheriff Honsal again.

HONSAL: The pilots are looking for, essentially, the tracks in the snow. They'll drop the hay in the area where they are, and what they found is the cows - they'll start coming out from under the trees and going towards that hay as soon as the helicopter takes off.

SHAPIRO: Operation Hay Drop covers about 2,500 head of cattle, and so far it's been a success, according to rancher Robert Puga.

PUGA: 'Cause if it wasn't for them, I guarantee you 110% there'd be thousands of cattle that are dying - thousands.

CHANG: But this harsh winter isn't over yet. There's even more snow in the forecast tonight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kai McNamee
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.