Snow in October in South Dakota, isn’t really that unusual. But the winter storm that hit South Dakota this past weekend literally wreaked havoc. Not just in the form of shutting down the Black Hills – where, mind you – they’re used to lots of snow, but it may well ruin lives, careers and everything ranchers have worked so hard to establish. I’m going to do my best to explain how what you’re seeing in the news (or not seeing as the case may be for some of you), happened.
In South Dakota, the herds are mainly Spring Calvers. Which means that sometime between March and May, the cows will calve, and then in the fall – usually between the middle of September and November, ranchers sell their calves that they worked so hard to raise all year. The work starts with calving, and ends with fall shots (as far as your calves are concerned). However, work on a ranch is never really done. There’s hay to be made, fences to be fixed and built, branding to do, pre-conditioning shots to give, heifers to wean, pregnancy testing, gathering bulls, horses to train, and feeding to be done in the winter. These are clearly NOT listed in the order in which they’re done – they’re just a list.
A few years ago I broke down the process of how a rancher gets paid. So this storm had terrible, terrible timing.
The estimates coming in so far are that 5%- 20% of the cattle herd in Western South Dakota are gone. Many ranchers lost 50% of the herd, and some, by unconfirmed reports, lost 2/3 or more. Those most affected by the storm are saying that 20-50% of their herds are gone. In South Dakota, there are 5 beef cattle for every state resident, and in total, the annual inventory is almost 4 million cow/calf pairs.
To add further insult to injury because there’s been no farm bill passed in several years, the disaster assistance once available to these ranchers is currently non-existent. This time of year we’ve got notes coming due. Which we pay when we sell our calves, and our open cows (cows that are not bred). These ranchers may well find themselves with only half of their calves to sell, and 20-50% of their mama cows dead – Cows that were bred to pay next year’s bills.
Cattle are smart- they travel with the wind, and they will find a place to get out of it- be it a draw, or a creek or a windbreak. We only got the rain (complete with wind-chills in the teens) – between 4.5 and 6 inches of it. But further west than here, they got pummeled with 12 hours of rain (with windchills in the teens), then 48 hours of snow, enough snow that the hiding places for many of the cattle were filled in, burying them.
Those that lost cattle are being asked to document the losses, in case the federal government ever does get over being dysfunctional.
Cattle literally litter US Highways 212, and 34 and draws/creeks West of our Reservation. Warning: Graphic images.
The economic impact of this blizzard is yet unknown, but it will affect this state (as we are the #5 cattle producing state in the nation) and some estimates have said the cost may reach into the billions*.
Today, in South Dakota, there’s ranchers wishing for “Happy Trails”, and there’s none for them to take. Please keep these people in your thoughts and prayers.
As for us, we lost a few but fared better than most.
Update: if you’re interested in seeing how you can help, please go here.