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Before the smoke cleared, benevolent folks from across the nation overwhelmed the Panhandle with truckloads of hay, feed, supplies and goodwill.

By Ross Hecox
Photos courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife


Photographs and video footage circulating from the Texas Panhandle in late February showed wild flames, heavy smoke and blackened pastures. But in a matter of a few days, some of the most powerful and popular imagery related to the fires was countless, endless truckloads of hay streaming into the area.

Shared through social media, local television stations and other news outlets, scenes of 17-ton donations on 18 wheels went viral. Lee Haygood, who owns and manages Indian Mound Ranch near Canadian, watched it happen in real time. Having lost about 75 percent of his pasture grass to the fire, he was also on the receiving end.

“While the smoke was still in the air, there were trucks rolling this way, which was awe-inspiring,” Haygood says. “Literal convoys were coming in, and they did not stop. They just kept coming. You could not drive in any direction and not meet trucks with hay. And so many of them wouldn’t take anything [as payment]. I tried. It is totally unbelievable. One truck driver didn’t really know who had sent the hay, and I think [the donors] wanted to keep it on the downlow.”

[Read more: One Rancher’s Story in the Midst of the Smokehouse Creek Fire]

Outpouring of Support from Across the Nation

Immediate needs of feed for livestock poured into donation centers across the Panhandle.

Assistance that flowed into the Panhandle came in all forms, from hay to feed, fencing supplies, bottled water and volunteer labor. Josh Brooks, the district administrator for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, says donations came from all over the nation. The service’s Disaster Assessment and Recovery unit set up supply points in five different locations, and those stations stayed busy receiving and distributing necessities for weeks.

“We had volunteers from all around working at those supply points, and for the first 10 days after the start of the fires, it was busy from sunup to sundown—talking on the phone, loading in, loading out,” Brooks says. “It’s been unbelievable. We’ve seen that humanity is still alive. This disaster came and it burned over a million acres. There were millions of dollars worth of livestock and fencing lost. People’s livelihoods are in jeopardy. But with the outpouring of support from all over the nation, I think they’re going to make it.”

In addition to the massive influx of donations, Brooks adds that volunteers showed up with tractors and skid steers to help load and unload trucks. They used their pickups and trailers to haul loads from the supply points to local ranches. As of mid-April, with donations still arriving, Texas A&M AgriLife estimated that 15,000 round bales had been shipped to their supply points. That doesn’t include hay that was given from donors directly to recipients, or bales that were sourced through other charitable organizations.

The Strength of a Community

Long-term recovery items, like barbed wire and fence posts, came in on pallets for affected ranchers.

Other entities that handled charitable contributions experienced the same flood of goodwill.

“The calls have been overwhelming,” says Kaycee Hooper, who works for the Working Ranch Cowboys Association and handles monetary donations to its crisis fund. “We’ve talked to people who live in Virginia, who say they heard about this and want to help. We have people praying with us on the phone. The donations coming in have ranged from $25 to $50,000. I’ve opened cards with money in them, and they say, ‘Kayce, I remember us doing the same journey in 2017. Please use this where needed.’”

Hooper adds that many ranchers who received crisis assistance from WRCA in the past were quick to contribute this time. For example, Kent Woolfolk, a rancher who lives near Protection, Kansas, was hit by wildfire in 2017.

“The Working Ranch Cowboys Association was great at donating money to us, and our local livestock association was, too,” Woolfolk says. “People delivered hay from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Minnesota. There were people from Iowa who came and helped us tear out [damaged] fence. Some of our neighbors got hit really hard that year, too. Well, they started Ashes to Ashes, and [the charitable Facebook page] has sent hay to Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico. It’s just paying it forward.

“You know how we are, here in the ranching community. We don’t ask for help. Just the other day I hauled hay down by Arnett, Oklahoma, and this gentleman said, ‘I hate taking it.’ And I said, ‘You lost everything. If someone offers to help, you’ve got to take it.’”

Ample Blessings

The total amount of hay donated is difficult to ascertain, but certainly tens, if not hundreds of thousands of tons of hay made its way to the Texas Panhandle.

Haygood agrees that ranchers have a tendency to turn down charity.

“I have a good friend from West Texas who showed up with a flatbed trailer of hay, and then he stayed to help for a few days,” he says. “I think a lot of ranchers are like me, where receiving gifts is hard. But eventually it became obvious around here that there was enough hay that everybody needed to take some. It’s been a huge blessing because I have been feeding it.”

Multiple benefit concerts and auctions have taken place throughout the country. Brooks adds that individuals and companies alike have sent feed, supplies, medicine and the use of their trucks and equipment to the supply stations. So much hay has shown up that affected ranchers and farmers don’t have room to receive it.

“The outpouring was so good that those producers got all the hay they could take, but no place to store it,” Brooks says. “So they’re storing it at those supply points until they can get it later.”

As affected ranchers face the summer months, knowing their burned pastureland won’t be ready for grazing, fellow ranchers are already stepping up with solutions for that dilemma.

“A friend of mine knew I was looking for a place to go with my cows once they’re finished calving and finished breeding,” Haygood says. “He called and said he did some calculating and figured I could run about 60 pairs on some of his land. I’ve had several other people say, ‘Hey, I’ve got room for some of your cows.’ And I know other folks who are getting calls from people with places to put their cows. It’s awesome.”

Kindness Spreads

An unmeasurable amount of benevolence arrived from kindhearted people without any connection to agriculture, which is heartwarming to ranchers and farmers. Additionally, the ranching community demonstrated its close-knit ties, functioning more like a family than an industry.

“I got a call the other day saying there was a 1,900-pound delivery of barbed wire on the way for me,” Haygood says. “It was from a guy in Louisiana, who I don’t know. But he knows a good friend of mine through a hunting lease. They talk about six degrees of separation, but in the ag industry, there’s about two. We may not know each other, but we dang sure all have mutual friends.

“So many people are very humble in their giving. They’re not looking for fanfare. There’s just generosity everywhere.” ★

This article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of the Ranch Record.  Would you like to read more stories about NRHC and ranching life? When you become a member of the Ranching Heritage Association, you’ll receive the award-winning Ranch Record magazine and more while supporting the legacy and preservation of our ranching heritage. Become a member today.