How Can You Help?

Update: Today (10/11) I will be having a teleconference with many of the folks working hard behind the scenes to put together some fundraisers. So please stay tuned. I will keep all of you up to date as details unfold.


The outpouring of support yesterday, for the ranchers in Western South Dakota, renewed my spirit in humanity. With over 8k page views on my post yesterday (up to 2k already today) and countless Facebook “Likes” I think we are starting to get the word out.

In the Wall Street Journal this morning there was an article about this, and I know after speaking to some folks yesterday that there should be more national media coverage in the coming days.

dead cattle in South dakota, blizzard kills thousands of cattle in south dakota

Josh Schumaker, 27, left, and Karl Knutson, 25, ride through pasture east of Sturgis along Highway 34 on Monday. Knutson and Schumaker were checking on cattle at Knutson’s father’s place. “This is the worse than I’ve ever seen for loss of livestock,” said Knutson, who was born and raised in Belle Fourche. He said this was worse than the worst storm he could remember which was back in the mid-90s, and especially bad for this early in the season. “For as early as it is, it’s the worst I’ve seen.”
Rapid City Journal Staff Photo by Kristina Baker

I never dreamed in a million years that what I wrote yesterday would have such an impact. But since it did, let’s keep this going and see if we can’t really get something done.

Here’s how you can help:

1. Go like the Rancher’s Relief Page on Facebook. We are going to have a stallion auction and an online auction to raise money. We will also be routing donations through a non-profit and we’ll keep you updated on where to send the money as those details present themselves.

Not to make light of the monetary donations people may wish to give, but short of raising millions of dollars, the money will only be a drop in the bucket. There’s 1.2 – 1.5M cattle in Western SD – and with estimates of 5-20% of the herd being deceased (60-275k cattle to put a number on it), and a cow being worth $1500 on the low end, and a calf being worth $1000, well, you can do the math.

2. Get over and get connected to the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and South Dakota Cattleman’s association. They will keep you updated for where volunteers are needed, as well as with news. And finally if you’re in Western SD, and you’re needing to locate or you’ve located cattle, you need to get connected to the South Dakota Cattle Locator page.

3. For the love of all things Pete, CALL YOUR SENATORS and CONGRESSMEN and tell them to stop talking, stop posturing, stop acting like three year olds and PASS A FARM BILL. I don’t care if you don’t live in South Dakota. If you live in these United States, and wish to help, the best way would be to let your senators and congressmen know what’s going on here and that it’s time to stop playing politics.

4. Tweet, Facebook, and share this post with your friends. We’ll be using the hashtag #ranchersrelief to spread the news, and while you’re at it you can use #ranchlife other situation appropriate tags.

Yesterday’s most asked question was:

Will insurance cover the losses? It will if you have the right insurance, and your cows are insured. Not everyone’s cows are insured. And not everyone may have a “winter peril” rider on their coverage. Some folks simply may not be able to afford the insurance. Each rancher’s situation is different, so let’s don’t judge, alright?

I know that we can come together to affect a proper change. So let’s help our friends and neighbors; the folks that work long hours to raise food for America.


The relief fund is now active, and is going through the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, a 501c3 Organization. This is the “official” donation fund. There are other entities holding fundraisers, and as far as I know (I’m working behind the scenes with many of these groups), they plan to make any money they raise payable to the fund listed here. You may make your donations to the Rancher Relief Fund online or via check:

Black Hills Community Area Foundation/SD Rancher Relief Fund.

Make check payable to the “Rancher Relief Fund.”

Address: PO Box 231, Rapid City, SD 57709.

You can also donate right from this page:


  1. Nancy Fetters says:

    Keep up the good writings Jenn, the word will get out!

  2. I am following my friends post on Facebook about this whole situation but here in Wisconsin it hasn’t ONCE made the NEWS or even an article in the papers! I appreciate this write up to help give answers and advice. The word needs to get out there all over the country as devastation of this storm will effect EVERYONE far beyond the Dakotas!
    We are all farm folks here in Southwest Wisconsin and our hearts go out to all of our fellow Americans who dedicate their lives to providing for our country as Ranchers!

  3. Lord knows I sure wish I could help. Just an unemployed horse trainer here. My prayers honestly go out to these men and women on these ranches. The Lord will get them all through this hard time. If I can help by getting out there and helping search and round up, let me now.

  4. Delia Wicker says:

    This is a great way to get the word out. I rembered the storms in the mid 90s we lived up there then.

  5. I’m confused. You’re urging people to call their Senators and Representatives to pass a Farm Bill? As a Republican or a Libertarian (not sure which you are, but I know you aren’t a Democrat), aren’t you opposed to either the principles or the substance of the Farm Bill? After all, taxpayer subsidies and restricting the free market are clearly against the Libertarian platform. And the Republicans are always publicly complaining about excessive spending. So what am I missing? Sounds like it might be a good time to “tighten y’alls belts” or something and not expect the government to “bail you out” right? Maybe people will have to eat less meat. Or go vegetarian. But hey, private charity is good. What did you call it — a drop in the bucket?

    Funny thing is, no one is likely to answer the phone at your Congressional delegation’s office. They’ve been shut down. Things are tough all over.

    • Ranchers, of all people, Anne, do not expect a government “bail out” as you put it. And yes, you’re right, I’m not a democrat (though I spend my life surrounded by them and we all seem to get along just fine. We often want the same things, we just have a different way to get there). However, this isn’t an event I think that should involve politics – it just happens to be because there has been no budget in Washington for five years. There has been no farm bill for nearly as long. These are people’s lives. Generations of blood, sweat, sleepless nights, tears, laughter and hours of work gone. Poof.

      The issue with no Farm Bill is this: There’s no Livestock Indemnification Program (LIP). Lip has never, and will never, pay the producer even close to market value on their cattle. As it stands now, the house version of the bill provides a 75% (of market value) pay-out to the producer, the senate bill, 65%. The house version is certainly better. But short of a house version that includes SNAP, as I understand it, the Senate refuses to pass the bill.

      The comment you made telling use to “tighten [your] belts, or something” shows exactly how out of touch you are with exactly how ranchers get paid.

      Let me attempt to explain how this disaster will have countless families (NOT “BIG” AG), filing chapter 11 if they 1. don’t have insurance, 2. have insurance but can’t prove the cattle deceased are theirs or 3. if they don’t have insurance and there’s no government payout. I’m not even going to get into the economic impact this will have on the state, or national level, but you can be it will be felt in both places.

      Currently a calf is worth about $1000. The cow, if she’s bred is worth $1500, on the low end. This storm caused catastrophic damage to herds. People have lost 15- 80% of their herds. That is the equivalent to your income being cut by that amount effective immediately, and for the next TWO years. Any calves that were lost, were due to be sold this year, to pay this year’s bills. The cow was already bred and held next year’s calf that paid next year’s bills. Now both those generations are gone too.

      In South Dakota the average ranching family only has about 200 cows – and most families have one person that works in town because you might be lucky to turn a 20-30k profit at the end of the year. Ranchers aren’t in this for the money. They’re in it for a way of life. Now, you tell me how “tightening their belts” is going to bring back their income, their life’s work, and how they’re going to rebuild with 80% of their assets gone?

      • debra lewis says:

        Thank You! Most people don’t have a true (any) understanding of cattle ranching. It’s nice to see the facts getting out to people who need it! Bless you and all our Ranchers! <3

      • Well, I did a little reading up. Apparently a “Farm Bill” is only meant to be passed every 5 years or so. There was one in Congress in 2012 that didn’t pass so the 2008 Bill was extended to Sept. 30, 2013. The 2013 one that’s currently “stuck” with different Senate and House versions needs to go to conference to get worked out. Either way your comment about there being no farm bill for nearly five years seems disingenuous. It is only a year late, not five years as you implied.

        No doubt these are people’s lives. Apparently you missed the irony. You see, when the shoe has been on the other foot so to speak, (generalizing here) many Republicans seem to care little about a family business, or home, or generations of whatever it may be, of other people’s. They make comments like “tightening your belts,” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” and “don’t expect a bailout,” etc. Many Republicans demonize poor people or those going thru a rough patch, assuming that anyone who isn’t “making it” is doing something wrong, or not working hard enough, or just plain lazy. Or they should have bought more insurance, or shouldn’t have lived on that floodplain, etc.

        Unfortunately disasters in America DO involve politics these days. Republican politicians have made sure of it. Two-thirds of the South Dakota delegation to Congress voted against Hurricane Sandy relief. But now the same Rep. Noem and Sen. Thune (both of whom supported the path to the shutdown, by the way) want the Farm Bill to be finished so that livestock disaster relief programs can be made available. Talk about hypocritical.

        THAT was my point.

        By the way speaking of “generations” … Yes, let’s not forget that in many cases those generations originated with free or low cost land that was (dare I say, stolen from Native people) granted from the federal government. This land ownership is a huge advantage of white privilege. Is that the “way of life” you’re talking about? I have to be honest with you. I’m not entirely sympathetic to that. But there is no guarantee in life. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and do something different.

        And for free market Republicans, there sure seems to be a lot of talk about market controls when it comes to the Farm Bill. Let me tell you, I have my own small business and there are no guarantees period. I don’t get any kind of guarantees or payouts. My output is worth what I deem it to be worth and what I can get someone to pay for in the marketplace. If I lost clients, my income would be cut by that amount immediately. It’s not entirely under my control, although weather has little to do with it. Severe weather does affect me a bit.

        Here’s the thing. I WANT y’all to get assistance. I WANT y’all to get help. I WANT there to be federally funded disaster aid for ALL AMERICANS that need it. I am sorry for the dead cows, the exhausted ranchers, the defeated-feeling families, the broken barns. I want FEMA to be open. I want the people to get what they need. I want the government to open. And yes, I want the Affordable Care Act to go full steam ahead. (Actually, I wanted a single payer system, because as a self employed person, I pay over $1100 for my family of 3. And have been since BEFORE ObamaCare, thank you very much. Don’t even talk to me about healthcare costs. They have been rising at an unsustainable trajectory for over a decade and it’s high time the government tried to do something about it in my opinion.)

        But I don’t want folks to begrudge others the same help and compassion in their time of need. (Like Thune and Noem.) We all have different ways we choose to make our lives; sometimes it chooses us. But most likely, we all do the best we can. Most people aren’t lazy. Most people don’t want a handout. There’s actually not as much fraud in SNAP as Fox News would have you believe! I believe most people are good. (Contrary to the evidence of commenter trolls on many news websites.)

        So, I’m sorry that you missed my irony and I’m sorry you were offended. Maybe I should have kept this reply shorter and just said, “Sure, I hope the ranchers get help from the Farm Bill, but they’ll have to piss in a cup first.” Because it’s really unfortunate that a lot of Republicans think that about hungry children and seniors.

        • And who you really are comes out.

          You have failed to see the larger picture: Ranchers don’t want welfare. They don’t get farm subsidies. This is essentially a Katrina for these affected states. No one complains when FEMA comes in (and btw, they’re not shut down), and gives residents of hurricane ravaged areas money. The ranchers aren’t asking for a handout. But this has largely been ignored in the media. That’s what the outcry is about. There are other reasons we need a farm bill too- those involve FSA loans, but I won’t bore you with those details.

          Ironically, you really don’t understand conservatives or those that may have an R behind their name (I’d do some research on who gives the most to charities). These states that have been hit by the storm hardest are RED States and many of the folks that are stepping up to the plate to help, are those that voted a lot of those with Rs behind their name into office. They’re giving their time, they’re donating heifers (to help rebuild herds), they’re fundraising, they’re donating horses, both broke and un-broke, they’re holding auctions, offering to clean up the mess, asking for nothing in return. I’m among those. These folks are giving because they’re good, compassionate people. If they’re so heartless why do they do these things?

          It’s really sad that you feel the way you do. Because the only folks I know are good folks, regardless of their political affiliation. Maybe you need to change your paradigm of who Republicans are. We’re not talking about DC Republicans. I’m talking about rank and file conservatives who believe charity and welfare are better given and received locally, as opposed to nationally, where there’s more accountability and often less waste.

          • “And who I really am comes out.” Yeah, not sure what that’s supposed to mean.

            You talked about payouts in your first response. That’s a type of welfare. If there are market props, that’s a type of subsidy. If the farm bill provides for help with insurance premiums, insurance deductibles, or price guarantees, those are all types of government subsidies that I was referring to. If small ranchers or farmers aren’t getting them, more’s the pity. Agro business doesn’t deserve them; family farms do, in my opinion.

            Look up welfare in the dictionary and you’ll see that it comprises “financial or other assistance to an individual or family from a city, state, or national government.” These are bad words to you, apparently: “Welfare.” “Handout.” Ahh, semantics.

            Of course the ranchers need help. And they should get it. From FEMA. From the farm bill. From aid organizations. From private citizens. And unless I should expect a tasty pack of steaks in the FedEx in exchange for my donation, it’s a “handout.” If it pisses you off that you got one from a Democrat in a blue state, so be it. You’re missing MY point. By the way, I don’t expect anything. It was a donation. (Just like to the Colorado floods. And to the Oklahoma tornado. And myriad local, national, and international causes I give to.)

            You apparently fail to understand that blue states’ tax dollars subsidize red states federal benefits, with South Dakota squarely in the top ten of recipients. As for charitable giving, it would be interesting if we could take churches out of that mix, since proselytizing is hardly what I’d call charity. Neither is gay bashing or politicking from the pulpit, but (at least) some churches seem to do so with impunity. But religion is another matter… Interesting that the #10 most generous state is Maryland — the state where I reside, by the way.

            I never said conservatives were heartless. I have some in my family that I love very much. I said many Republicans were hypocritical. Even nice ones! It’s great that you’re helping your literal neighbors. I hope you help your figurative neighbors, too. Are we not all neighbors? The Parable of The Good Samaritan is a lesson for us all. Maybe your Congressional delegation should try to remember that New York and New Jersey are their neighbors, too.

            If you really believe your last paragraph, then there should have been a disclaimer on the donation site saying LOCAL DONORS ONLY.

            • Hey Anne, I believe Jenn andd the addected ranchers appreciate your concerns, but they are not impacted by this disaster because they are Republicans, Democrats, or any other political affiliation. They are impacted because they are individuals and families who work hard taking care of their cattle who produce beef for otherfamiliesacross the globe. Maybe lie down your political frustrations for a bit and look at it from the ranchers perspective?

              • Sorry, that should say “Jenn and the affected ranchers”

                • @Ryan, that’s true: disaster strikes indiscriminately.

                  Compassion and empathy should also be indiscriminate. Regardless of whether one has “walked a mile” or experienced what someone else has. We all experience some kind of suffering and we are all part of the human family. That should be enough. It is my sincere hope that those affected find some relief. Physical, emotional, spiritual, and yes monetary. And I gave a monetary donation to that end. (Is it too much to hope that everyone involved come out of this experience with a little more compassion and empathy the next time a disaster strikes elsewhere?)

                  • Thanks Anne! And yes, hopefully this will bring awareness of those who are affected by this and future disasters. Hopefully we can learn more about preparedness for dealing with these ventures.

            • The farm bill does none of those things for ranchers, Anne. And you’re showing your ignorance in several ways: 1. you don’t know what a farm bill does. and 2. you don’t know that 98% of the farms/ ranches in America are owned by families. There are no price supports for Ranchers. If we have a drought we have to have a 50% or greater loss on our grass to get any help. If we lose 15% of the grass, we are just cooked.

              Those that purchase a “light” insurance (Livestock Risk Protection Program) from the government are only protected in the event of a catastrophic market failure, and in order to be paid you have to have a LIVE cow or calf. So even folks that had bought into that program are not covered in this case.

              As far as local charities, I’m talking about them being run by local folks that know what’s going on, not just channeling money from wherever; with no accountability as to how that money is spent. In the case of the rancher relief fund, it’s being run by a SD Charity, and a board is set up through three different organizations to help direct those resources back to the producers in an appropriate manner.

              • @Cowgirl: Sure I’m ignorant on ranching. If you expect everyone to be an expert then you will have even less support. I have tried to understand this issue by reading a variety of sources. Nearly all of them talk about “direct and guaranteed loans to farmers and ranchers” in the same phrase. And yet you continue to say that ranchers don’t have these federal resources available. There’s also the issue of deeply discounted grazing fees on federal land. (Now I realize ranchers aren’t all the same, but every occupational category must be lumped together in some manner, although the feds did distinguish gross income levels.) Ummm, aren’t those in the “Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008″ ? You’ll have to forgive me if I didn’t read it the whole thing, or the “Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002″ of which it was a continuation. Kudos to you if you’ve read all 1,037 pages of both of them, as well as the 2 versions of the 2013 bill. I seriously admire your stamina, and if they’ve taken out all mention of ranchers, well then your politicians aren’t doing their jobs. Rep. Noem went to great lengths on her YouTube channel to point out how she wrote part of the 2013 bill, and that she was advocating for ranchers. Seems like someone has a disconnect.

                You are the one that brought up “75% market value payout” to the producer. If that’s not a type of price support, I don’t know what is. But maybe we’re arguing semantics, as I already mentioned. And we accomplish nothing by going round and round.

                At the risk of offending you (which is not my intent) I imagine this would be an interesting debate to have over some beers. We seem alike in some ways, albeit you are obviously predisposed conservative and I am predisposed liberal. There’s a new book out by that title, by the way. When things settle down for you, you might check it out.

                It’s been real. Good luck to you all.

                • That payout is a disaster payout – it’s called the Livestock Indemnity Program and as I understand it, it doesn’t protect you against a normal death of a cow/calf. Ranchers plan for a certain number of deaths a year because well, stuff just dies. A cow can get stuck in a river or dam and if you don’t find her in time, she can die. She can get grass tetany, she can get milk poisoning; there’s numerous things that can cause a death. She can just get old and die too, sometimes before her time. So the payouts are only in the case of a disaster such as this.

                  As for reading them, I don’t have to; reading them, providing input to the farm bill, and promoting agriculture on Indian Land is what my better half does for a living; because contrary to popular belief, ranchers aren’t wealthy. Most successful ranchers have a wife that works in town, or they themselves work in town. I’m fortunate that I’m the one able to stay home, run my photography business, ride a colt here or there, and that Zach works in town. When he’s done with his “town” job in a few years, we’ll be back to working side by side- fixing fence, riding colts (to pay our bills) and calving cows together.


                  Direct and guaranteed loans are a different animal altogether (though the details/rates/info for them are part of the farm bills) as far as I’m concerned; we, as a society, offer loans to kids to go to college too and I’m alright with that -it’s for the betterment of them. I’m also alright with providing loans to farmer and ranchers that are ready to make a go of it. But those are still loans that have to be paid back – not handouts. And they can be guaranteed because the FSA is the first lien holder and the cattle are the asset.

                  No worries about offending me. I don’t get offended and if I weren’t on a diet, I’d take that beer with you. :-)

  6. You got something for me is #1, the horses look so happy and eager to pose. Feeding the loop is second, wonderful statement of the art of working with a rope and we do not get to see many pictures of a cowboy in action.

  7. Hey what if there was another way we could help. I believe there are tons of ranchers across America who would rather give one of their own cattle, than money. I created a facebook page for my idea right now it is just a dream and I am looking to spread the word and gain support so I know whether I should move forward with my crazy idea. :) Thanks!

  8. I live on the plains of South Dakota. The cows are literally scattered by the highway. It is devastating!!!

  9. Can't Fix Stupid says:

    I Bet If Anne Was In A Disaster FEMA Would Be Her First Call.Tighten My Belt My Ass

    • Hehe. I understand the mentality of wanting people to work for what they get. The difference in the Government helping these folks vs those that simply won’t work is like comparing apples to oranges. These are people’s lives- much like those that were just affected by the floods of Colorado. FEMA came in and gave those folks money to assist with cleanup and rebuilding. Why is this different?

      • @Stupid: I never said I was against FEMA.

        @Cowgirl: It’s seems like you’re painting a picture of “we’re worthy” and “they’re not”. Whoever “they” are. Care to cite an example of these people who simply won’t work, that you refer to?

  10. Sheri Hill says:

    tried but didn’t work. I’m not sure how else to contact you directly. my personal email is :) would love to hear from you.

    • are you saying my contact form didn’t work, or my email bounced back? I switched servers this week and not everything is back up and running like it should be. So I’m interested in what part exactly didn’t work! hehe!

  11. Sheri Hill says:

    Your contact form didn’t work. Whenever I hit send, a box would pop up and ask if I was sure if I wanted to do that, with no way to say yes or no. I work at a bank so it is quite possible your security certificates aren’t acceptable to our security settings…so I may not be able to view every part of the page. I’ve noticed that with other pages as well. When I get home tonight I can try again, if you prefer to communicate through your blog.

  12. Sheri Hill says:

    ps. this was awesome!! made me want to say bazinga!

  13. I heard thru the grapevine yesterday that a couple “new” to ownership of 75 head lost their entire herd. This broke my heart and I feel so badly for ones out there who are going thru this hardship at this time. Prayers for all involved…

  14. I bought the sweatshirt the Agriculture Proud Site…Thank you so excited to be able to help in some small way…..

  15. karen crew says:

    S.d.cowgirl: if l give a donation to heife r international will that benefit s d ranchers? I would like to help fellow south Dakota people first. I would also purchase good ranch recipes if such fundraiser exists. Karen in sioux falls.

    • I don’t know how heifers international is distributing the funds but I do know how the Rancher Relief fund is set up and working so I’d encourage you to donate there. As to a recipe fundraiser none is in the works yet but it’s a great idea!

  16. Send me a link for the sweatshirt…Thank you

  17. I’ll be posting a link here and to my FB page on Monday.


  1. […] And where is the assistance? The websites of information that could be used to help? Oh, sorry, didn’t you hear about the furlough? […]

  2. […] Jenn Zeller: My Heart Breaks and How Can You Help? […]

  3. […] check out The South Dakota Cowgirl for ways you can […]

  4. […] The sweatshirt is only $26 and you can purchase at this link. There is also an effort in Montana to take cattle donations for those ranchers affected. To learn about more ways you can help, see this post from Jenn Zeller, The South Dakota Cowgirl. […]

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