By Sara Brown and Katie Humphreys
Western South Dakota ranchers are reeling from the loss of an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 head of cattle from a blizzard named Atlas.
Up to 4' of snow fell in the Black Hills area from Oct. 4 to 7. According to the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, nearly a third of the state’s 3.7 million cattle and calves reside in the western part of the state.
Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, says cattle producers are still scrambling to find cattle. "We’ve had up to 4" of rain since the blizzard, and it’s raining again today. That’s really making it hard for producers to get out and check cattle in pastures."
Right now, producers are focusing on caring for cattle that are alive. "We’re working with our state Extension service to provide information for cattlemen to help them take care of cattle that are very stressed. There will obviously be lost gains for those animals that would traditionally be marketed in just a few weeks."
The emotional health of cattle producers is a concern, as well. "It’s been a really emotional effort to find and attend to cattle. We’re just now settling into what this will mean to us long term. We are putting together financial resource teams of bankers, etc., for producers," Christen says.
The lack of USDA and Farm Service Agency resources is making a bad situation worse. While Christen is advising cattlemen to keep detailed records of animal losses, it is unsure if the livestock indemnity program will accept those records—or have the resources to compensate producers if a farm bill is not passed.
How you can help. The Rancher Relief Fund is collecting donations to assist producers with rebuilding efforts. Donate at www.southdakotastockgrowers.org. A group of ranchers created "Heifers for S. Dakota" to coordinate monetary and live animal donations. Visit www.helpforsouthdakota.com.
For continuing coverage of the impact of the South Dakota blizzard, including video, audio reports and photos, visit www.FarmJournal.com/South_Dakota_snow