Cattle ranchers reflect on Harvey one year later

At the J.D. Hudgins Ranch in Hungerford, roots run deep.

“My great-great-grandfather actually came here in 1839,” says Coleman Locke, president of J.D. Hudgins, Inc.

The family has proudly bred Brahman cows for generations.

“I’m a fifth generation member of our family,” adds Coleman. “So, we’ve been here a long time and we’re totally connected to the land and to these cows.”

Coleman’s son, John, is the managing partner. On a quiet, sunny day at the ranch, what they dealt with during Hurricane Harvey feels like a lifetime ago.

The storm's record rainfall overwhelmed a nearby river and threatened the Locke family’s livelihood.

John says he told workers to grab life jackets and they sprang into action. They had an emergency plan ready to move nearly 600 head of cattle to higher ground but they were in a race against the clock.

“Every thirty minutes [the water] was just coming and coming and, so, you’ve got this sense of urgency,” recalls John. “But the faster you move and the more excited you get, then the harder the cattle are to handle.”

John says as the sun went down, he had to hope for the best. The area the emergency plan had identified as higher ground to move the cattle was under three-to-five feet of water.

The next day when he got on a helicopter to search for the cattle, his despair turned into disbelief.

“We made about five passes and we finally started to see little splintered groups of cows that I could positively identify as our own," adds John. "That was a great feeling.”

The cows had moved around the land to find higher ground. All but three cows and three calves survived.

“They’re good swimmers," says John, referring to the cattle. "They’re so resilient and I remember thinking, ‘Man, y’all are rockstars.’”

For the next couple of days after Hurricane Harvey caused flooding in Hungerford, family and friends used airboats to bring hay to the stranded cattle. John and Coleman say that, coupled with all the messages of support from around the world, kept their spirits up. The family updated followers on Facebook on their recovery.

“It was so heartwarming to see that outpouring of love from so many people," says Coleman. "I’ll never forget that.”

It’s that support, awe for their animals, and Harvey’s ultimate lesson that they reflect on one year later.

“It’s a life changing experience in that makes you understand life is pretty short and things happen fast,” concluded John.