When fires began tearing across southwest Kansas, Erin Boggs and Rachelle Schlochtermeier knew they had to find a way to help. As she saw the destruction left in the wake of the Starbuck Fire, Boggs had an idea to take in baby calves from ranchers across the area.
“I know that they don’t have time to do this and I know they would have hauled [the calves] to the sale barn and it would have been another loss. Not because they wanted to but because they literally have other fires to put out,” Boggs said. “It takes a lot of time to take care of a bucket calf and they don’t have that. It’s one small thing that we could do and I want to show my kids that you help people when they need, no matter how much time you do or don’t have.”
Boggs and Schlochtermeier gathered the local 4-H group and community members to help. Since the beginning of the project, the Four-Leaf Clover 4-H club in Meade, Kansas, has helped to coordinate temporary homes and care for 86 calves that were left orphaned or whose mothers were no longer able to care for them due to fire injuries.
“Part of the point of this project was that [producers] had some baby calves that made it through the fire. We wanted to take that off of their minds and give them the peace of knowing those calves were taken care of so they could focus on something else,” Schlochtermeier said. This is just a small thing that we can do. I am overwhelmed with the people that have volunteered to help. Erin and I are just little people when it comes to the big picture of this fire.”
In that big picture comes the distribution of supplies and bucket calves to helping hands across community and doing what’s necessary to keep calves alive.
“So far we’ve only lost seven and considering what many of them have been through, I’m pretty pleased with that number,” Boggs said. “We’re going to be seeing here in the next week, more lung issues, more scours. We have some whose feet are pretty iffy from the burns. It’ll be hard to keep those but we’re going to do our best.”
Due to the fact that the fires hit during calving season for many Kansas ranchers, calves in the 4-Hers care range in age from a few days old to a couple months.
“We have a few who may have been lucky to get colostrum before the fire hit,” Boggs said.
Support for the project and the community has poured in over the past several days. Milk replacer, electrolytes, bedding, bottles, tubing supplies, hay and panels have all been donated to help keep the calves, and kids, moving forward.
With the fires behind them, Boggs and Schlochtermeier are looking at the long-term needs of caring for the calves into the future.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these calves aren’t still placed with care through the fall,” Schlochtermeier said. “Our needs are going to grow but at this point we’re not really sure what we’re going to need in the long-term.”
However, the most valuable donation they say has been people’s time.
“One sweet lady from Elkhart, Kansas came and took the terribly-burned and blind calves and she’s working her tail off. She says it’s her specialty,” Boggs said. “I think she took seven of them.”
Most of the calves caretakers are 4-H kids, like Boggs’ own four children or ‘retired 4-Hers’ like Schlochtermeier’s.
“I’m just so proud of everyone that is involved in this and is taking care of a calf. It’s a very selfless act,” Schlochtermeier said. “These people aren’t getting anything out of this. It’s just out of good hearts. But that’s what southwest Kansas is.”