Nieema Thasing wasn't about to let anything, including the government shutdown, rain on her parade.
“I want to be able to be a ray of sunshine,” she said. “If it's too much sunshine, then I can get you a pair of sunglasses. I do the best that I can with what I have.”
Thasing is a Census Bureau employee who was furloughed during the shutdown but found a productive way to use her unexpected break from work. Although she had access to enough hay for her rescue horses, some of Thasing's neighbors in and around Elkton, S.D. weren't so lucky—especially since a record-breaking blizzard dumped up to four feet of snow on the state last week. Ranchers and horse owners lost many of their animals, and most had to dig into their hay stores a little early.
The bad weather and the unexpected loss of work were a one-two punch for horse owners in the region. Once she realized the shutdown was going to continue for more than a day or two, she started wondering how other furloughed employees were going to feed their horses in the long term.
“My mind was racing—'What can I do, what can I do?'” she said.
After reading about the Minnesota Hay Bank Thasing wanted to start a similar network for hay and feed. Stacy Bettison, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Hay Bank, was quick to reach out and do everything she could to help Thasing proceed.
The project is still in a networking stage as she tries, with the help of fellow horsewomen Valerie Ruste Hicks, Rebecca Johnson, and Kysa Kohl Gilkerson to determine which farmers in neighboring states have hay to give, and how to best screen the requests for hay she anticipates receiving.
Thasing said she wants applicants to her program to have a long-term plan to get back on their feet and provide for their animals. She has been assured cooperation from the local animal control to check out applicants' farms to see their situations first-hand. The hay bank will be open to anyone in the South Dakota who needs help feeding their horses, not just those were affected by the shutdown.
“We've been there too,” she said, recalling the days just after the blizzard when her usual hay supplier wasn't able to get his truck through the snow and she was briefly left without food for her horses.
Hay scarcity has become a problem for several regions in the last few years. The government does not offer crop insurance on hay, so it's considerably less risky for farmers to switch over to corn and soybeans, which also have higher profit margins.
Organizers of the Minnesota Hay Bank are anticipating that hay will again be scarce this winter, which are predicted to be one of the worst in recent years. Severe drought and an extended cold period earlier this year also stifled hay fields.
“Since our launch in December 2012, we received 27 applications, fed over 220 horses, and distributed approximately $14,000 in feed assistance,” said Stacy Bettison, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Hay Bank. “We are scrambling to raise enough funds from individuals and businesses so we can get hay to those horses who need it most. We are working very hard to plan ahead and get prepared, but, truthfully, it's going to be a rough road ahead for horses.”
The Minnesota program uses the state's Humane Society as a fiduciary to raise money and purchase hay for those who can't afford it. So far, Thasing is still searching for a non-profit to serve a similar role for the South Dakota Hay Bank.
Another part of her quest involves finding a truck with a hitch. She has secured a trailer with which to haul hay and/or grain.
Thasing plans to have a website for the bank up and running in the coming days. In the meantime, she is coordinating requests for hay and donations at her personal email at [email protected] or by phone at (855) 687-2783. Donations can also be sent to Nieema Thasing c/o Our Healing Villlage 9, P.O. Box 500, Elkton, SD 57026, Attention Hay Bank.
Thasing will need some luck and a little help from social networking to be ready for winter, which is coming quickly to South Dakota—forecasters predicted that overnight temperatures would dip below freezing this weekend.
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