Tuesday, October 15, 2013

South Dakota's cattle cataclysm: why isn't this horror news?

Ranchers in South Dakota lost tens of thousands of cattle from a freak storm. Thanks to the shutdown, no one is paying attention

South Dakota floor
A dead cow is lifted from flooding in the aftermath of winter storm Atlas in South Dakota. Photograph: Lacey Weiss
If you aren't in the ag world, you most likely haven't heard about thedevastating loss that ranchers in western South Dakota are struggling with after being hit by winter storm Atlas.
For some reason the news stations aren't covering this story. I don't understand why they wouldn't. This story has heartbreak, tragedy and even a convenient tie into the current government shutdown. Isn't that what the news is all about these days?
But the news isn't covering this story. Instead, it is spreading around on social media, and bloggers are writing from their ranches in South Dakota. Bloggers are trying to explain how the horrible happened. And now I am going to join them to tell you the part of the story that I know, and I am going to ask you to help these people, because if you are here reading this, I know you give a crap about these people.
Last weekend western South Dakota and parts of the surrounding states got their butts handed to them by Mother Nature. A blizzard isn't unusual in South Dakota, the cattle are tough and can handle some snow. They have for hundreds of years.
Unlike on our dairy farm in Wisconsin, beef cattle don't live in climate controlled barns. Beef cows and calves spend the majority of their lives out on pasture. They graze the grass in the spring, summer and fall and eat baled hay in the winter.
In winter these cows and calves grow fuzzy jackets that keep them warm and protect them from the snow and cold. The cows and calves live in special pastures in the winter. These pastures are smaller and closer to the ranch, and they have windbreaks for the cows to hide behind. They have worked for cows for hundred of years.
So what's the big deal about this blizzard?
It's not really winter yet.
The cows don't have their warm jackets on. The cows are still out eating grass in the big pastures. Atlas wasn't just a snowstorm, it was the kind of storm that can destroy the ranchers that have been caring for these cattle for hundreds of years.
Last weekend Atlas hit. It started with rain. The rain soaked the cows and chilled them to the bone. Inches and inches of rain fell. The rain made horrible mud. Then the winds started – 80mph winds, hurricane force. When the wind started, the rain changed to snow. A lot of snow. The cows were wet, muddy and they didn't have their winter jackets when the wind and snow came. Wet snow. Heavy snow.
The cows tried to protect themselves. They hid in low spots away from the wind. The low spots where the rain had turned the ground to thick mud. Some got stuck in the mud. Some laid down to get away from the wind, to rest a little, they were tired from trying to get away from the weather when they were already so cold.
The snow came down so heavy and so fast the the low spots that the cattle were laying in filled with snow. Not a few inches of snow, not a foot of snow. Enough snow that the cows and their calves were covered in snow.
The cows and calves suffocated or froze to death.
The caretakers of these cattle had no power to save them. They had to stand by and take the lashings from Mother Nature. They had no options. When it was all over, they went out to discover what they had left.
Can you even imagine what that would feel like? Standing with your hands tied as your life's living, breathing and mooing work is destroyed. I can't imagine, I don't know how I would recover from a loss like that. This wasn't just one or two herds of cows. This wasn't just one or two families that lost animals. This wasn't just a few cows. Tens of thousands of cows are gone. Some ranchers lost their entire herds. All of their cows, gone.
In the fall, a cattle rancher sells their calves to someone who specializes in raising them for market. It's how a ranch generates income. Calves are the lifeblood of a cattle ranch. Most ranchers had not yet sold their calves when Atlas hit. Their calves are gone. The cows that made those calves were pregnant with with next year's calves. Those cows are gone, those calves are gone.
Meanwhile in Washington DC, the shutdown has doubly screwed the ranchers. The people that are supposed to try to help these people are unable to do their jobs. The farm bill is held up again. No one knows when, how or if help is going to come.
Insurance? Not likely.
When a flood comes and your corn is flooded out, you have some options. Insurance for cattle is expensive and it comes with hundreds of loopholes that make the gamble of farming without it the most practical choice for many.
There is no way around it, this storm has put some ranchers out of business. Time will tell just how many.
• This was originally posted on the author's blog, The Adventures of Dairy Carrie. The author also points out that the AgChat Foundation has partnered with several organizations to create a grassroots effort to help ranchers who lost so much.


  1. I saw it on my local news KTLA5 then I saw it on all the major news outlets, then I saw it on the web.

    1. Well guess what, we live here & saw it TWICE!!!

  2. They should start by building emergency shelter for their lifeline. What are we as a society to do about this. With the government making cut backs and spreading the budget so thin, what is the solution for these farmers?

    1. I'll tell you what your going to do about it.....its called skyrocketed beef prices in the grocery stores. And when you go and pay those prices and start to grumble about having to pay them maybe then you'll have some understanding! No one saw this coming. Some of these ranches spread out over a couple hundred miles, do you really think the cattle are going to know where to go to find these shelters? Whats the solution, heck if I know. But somebody out there has the means to help in a tangible way if they choose to for good of all!

  3. Oh I don't know, DONATE like everyone else did for Jersey & Katrina!!!! Build shelters? Do you realize they couldn't build BIG enough shelters for these cattle????

  4. If Washington DC ever gets their head out of their ---, there'd better be some reimbursements, or people will suffer greatly. All herds ... cattle, sheep, horses, Mother Nature provides a hard way to die .... but horse slaughter's horribly cruel. Work now to support and pass S.541 and HR.1094, the US Senate and US House bills banning horse slaughter for human consumption .... an incredibly cruel, for-profit practice that if there weren't so much profit in it, it would be immediately condemned. See the US Senate and US House bills now, and actively support them by contacting your two US senators and one US Congressman:

    1. Okay, the point is not building shelters or donating to devastating causes. The real issue is that our government has their priorities so screwed up. What these Ranchers/Farmers needed was help with clean up and rebuilding and assurance that they would be given some help in their devastation. We give millions off lazy asses a free ride in this country and benefits they are taking for granted. Washington has these meetings and conferences with lavish and over-priced shindigs. Ranchers/ Farmers work their asses off everyday...they don't get the weekends off. This was a devastating thing that happened...dead carcasses need to be removed swiftly so as not to spread disease. It doesn't matter if the government is having a pissing contest or not there is work to be done and these Ranchers/Farmers need this country's help.

    2. Apparently people in Massachusetts don't understand animal suffering! The suffering of horses since the slaughter ban has increased greatly. Animals that used to be humanely used for human consumption are now the ones most susceptible to the very slow painful deaths that Mother Nature is known for. If you truly care for horses you will beg your congressmen to forever lift the ban on the use of horses to feed the hungry people of the world.