Lightning kills 45 cows in Bitterroot Valley

Black Angus standing under crab apple trees felled by a single bolt-

Last week a mixture of 45 cows and calves were killed near Darby, Montana by a lightning strike.  When hit, they were standing close together under some crab apple trees.

While this is a fairly large loss, especially from a relatively small herd, lightning strikes of livestock are fairly common.  A quick web search done while writing this story showed three other very recent stories of lightning killing cattle. Because livestock and some wildlife seek shelter under trees during thunderstorms, their behavior amounts to what humans would call “unsafe practice.”

Four legged animals have more contact area with electrified ground than two-legged humans, adding to the likelihood  they will suffer a lightning fatality.  Estimates of yearly losses of cows, sheep, horses, deer, elk, etc. are hard to come by, but probably more than most people think. Finding a dead deer or two, horses, or cows might remain a mystery or be misattributed as disease, poison, or predators. The latter is probably overestimated because dead electrocuted animals, not quickly found, will often be discovered after scavengers have made a meal, covering up signs of the true cause of death.

Domestic sheep, especially on the open range, are wont to run in a storm and fall off a cliff or embankment. They end up in a big pile, suffocated by their own weight. There have been a number of controversial cases where sheep likely killed incident to lightning have had their death blamed on wolves, bears, and the like.

Here is a story about the 45 dead black angus. 45 cows killed by single lightning strike near Darby. Billings Gazette.




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  1. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    Here is a perspective, one lightning storm killed almost as many cattle than wolves and grizzlies (52 confirmed)combined in Montana in 2013. Lets get that printed in a Montana newspaper (oh wait that’s not sensational enough).

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Gary Humbard,

      They like to, or at least they do take the wolf and grizzly stories and parcel them out one or two cows at a time. The result is just a trickle of news, but it gives the impression of a constant imposition on the livestock industry.

      One such story today is how a rancher lost a Great Pyrenees dog to one or two wolves. In fact, the dead dog story is a lot longer than the 45 dead cattle story. Here is the overblown headline from the Idaho Statesman, “Residents on alert after wolf kills Great Pyrenees in Gem County.”

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        And an almost 10 year old Great Pyrenees is an old Great Pyrenees. One might think that a dog that old is no match for a wolf, or two, and would have retired said dog.

        1. SAP Avatar

          The dog wasn’t “on the job” as a livestock guardian, he was along for a field trip to look at some water developments. Somewhere along the way, he got separated from his people and ended up in a scrap with wolves.

          1. Immer Treue Avatar
            Immer Treue

            Thanks for the correction.

      2. Yvette Avatar

        It’s sad about the dog and mostly because now the wolf is now likely in the government’s crosshairs. Had this dog been killed by stepping in a trapper’s trap would it even be news? If so, it certainly would be slanted against the dog and it’s owner.

  2. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E


    1. WM Avatar

      Or perhaps,… seared veal with a crab apple glaze, and roasted camas root w/ wild onions. Prepared in a flash.

      1. JEFF E Avatar
        JEFF E


    2. skyrim Avatar

      45 down and hundreds of thousands to go…..

  3. Yvette Avatar

    “45 down and hundreds of thousands to go…..”

    They are still living beings. It’s not the fault of cattle that the idiotic politics and policies of the supposed higher beings, humans, places them in competition with wildlife and wildlands.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines


    2. Nancy Avatar

      Would agree Yvette except being struck by lightning is probably a “blessing in disguise” given what far too many of these “still living beings” go thru in their lives before they even get to feedlots and slaughter houses.

      “Manhandled from the get go as babies – roped (or in many cases, harassed into a metal frame that swings them sideways) where they are branded, doctored, the boys castrated.

      Around here, cattle are pushed out on highways and driven for miles & miles by riders and dogs (thru traffic) to public lands when calves are barely 4 months old. Many mothers & babies are separated during the “drive” … its organized chaos.

      Often its a two day “event” dumping them in association fields along the way, with maybe a day to re-coop (find your baby) Then they are pushed another few miles to summer allotments.

      There,cattle spent roughly 3-4 months with little supervision where cows and calves, die for a host of reasons and most have little to do with predators.

      When they are rounded up in the fall, they are driven back along the same route, often calves are separated from mothers before they even reach the ranch, in designated areas (fenced corrals) where calves are immediately weaned and then shipped off in cattle trucks. Mothers are left in the same tight area, no water, no feed… babies. Til they are pushed back to the ranch a day later.

      Course some might feel these cows & calves are fortunate (if you want to call what they are forced to go thru… fortunate) compared to cattle that are shipped from ranches to summer allotments… by cattle trucks.

      Can’t even imagine the horror of being packed tight the night before into corrals and then pushed and harassed, at the crack of dawn, into two tier cattle trucks.

      You seldom hear about the “accidents” involving cattle truck rollovers, but I’m aware of at least 3 where over a hundred head of cattle lost their lives, in the past 5 years.

      And then, come the end of summer, too often in blistering heat, being brought back “home” the same way.

      But hey 🙂

      Beef! It’s what’s for dinner, right?

  4. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Must’ve been a pack of wolves carrying lightning rods…

    1. WyoWolfFan Avatar

      It was a pack of freakishly large Canadian wolves working as government agents carrying lightning rods.

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        Ha! Something a little light-hearted for a Sunday – reminds me of something I read about recently. I don’t know if any of you follow “Sherlock” on PBS, but the actor Benedict Cumberbatch is doing the voice of a wolf character by the name of “Classified” (Canadian plot?) in the upcoming DreamWorks animated film Penguins of Madagascar. Classified is the leader of ‘The North Wind’ an elite, undercover inter-species task force dedicated to helping animals who can’t help themselves.

        Here’s what he had to say about preparing for the role:

        The actor also joked about his training for playing a wolf in the animated film by explaining his training process for the movie. “You have to go undercover for a long time. I worked in Yellowstone Park as a wolf for a while,” he joked to the panel. “I was accepted by a band and things got a bit hairy, no pun intended, when I became the alpha male. About a month into it, I realized that two of the other wolves were Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis.


  5. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Or calling the National Weather Service to shoot the offending clouds out of the sky.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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