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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico are all now using helicopters to drop hay to help save stranded and starving cattle. They've had back-to-back blizzards, so some animals have gone nearly a week without any food.

In Colorado, the National Guard is hauling hay using huge green trucks designed to carry rockets. NPR's Jeff Brady traveled with one group of soldiers as they made a hay run.

JEFF BRADY: The Colorado Department of Agriculture estimates up to 350,000 head of cattle are out wandering around in snow that's still at least three feet deep. The helicopter and cargo-plane drops of hay have been an important lifeline for cattle, but a truck on the ground can carry a lot more hay.

Captain Mike Lane(ph), outside the Lamar Armory in southeastern Colorado, is preparing to leave with his group of soldiers.

Captain MIKE LANE (National Guard, Colorado): The local authorities have identified a supply of hay, and we're going to take one of our HEMIT trucks, with stands for Heavy Expandable Mobile Tactical Trucks, we're going to take two of those out, and we're going to go pick up hay, and we're going to find out exactly how much we can carry.

(Soundbite of metal)

BRADY: The HEMITs are impressive machines, eight wheels about five-feet high. Typically, they carry 24 rockets.

(Soundbite of HEMIT truck being loaded)

BRADY: Two soldiers remove the sides on the cargo area, and the HEMITs are now flatbed trucks, ready to haul hay. We're headed just about seven miles outside town, but it takes nearly an hour to get there. A stalled semi is backing up traffic on Main Street.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible). Be advised traffic seems to have just now started moving, so my guys…

BRADY: When the military trucks arrive at David Emick's(ph) ranch, he loads about six tons of hay onto each truck.

Mr. DAVID EMICK (Ranch Owner, Colorado): The cattle are simply out of feed and out of water, and this is now the - well, I don't even know what day it is anymore. It started Friday night, and they're to the point now that if we don't get them feed and water in the next day or two, the storm will sort out the weakest ones, and they'll die first, and then it'll just continue.

BRADY: Emick was in a helicopter a few days back and says the 600 or so calves he saw were doing pretty well.

Mr. EMICK: I saw a couple that were down, and what I mean by saying down is that they had kind of given up. They're tired, they're weak, they're cold, and they lay down. And once they lay down, it's really hard to save them. They've lost their desire to live.

(Soundbite of truck)

BRADY: With the hay loaded up, the soldiers had planned to take it to another ranch and feed cattle, but there's a problem. A front-end loader needs to get to the ranch first to clear a path through the snow to the animals, otherwise even these HEMITs will get stuck.

Then a call comes in. A local sheriff's deputy has run out of hay for his horses. The trucks head north of town, where Deputy Bill Nordyke(ph) is waiting with a pickup truck. As the soldiers load bales, Nordyke says he's been busy working for the Sheriff's Department the last few days, and this morning his horses ate the last of his hay. Nordyke says the snow has been tough on him and his neighbors.

Deputy BILL NORDYKE (Colorado): A lot of them got a lot more than I got. I only got seven, eight head of horses, so you know, it's not no big thing, but they're still my animals.

BRADY: Within a few minutes, the crew is back on the road, trucks loaded with hay, waiting for another call. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Lamar, Colorado.

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