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Freak Storm Hits South Dakota’s Cattle Industry

Ranchers in western South Dakota have lost tens of thousands of cattle in the past two weeks as a freak snowstorm left some parts of the state under as much as four feet of snow beginning Oct. 3.

The latest estimates, according to multiple news sources, put the number of dead cattle at about 75,000. The affected area is estimated to have around 1 million cattle and 100,000 sheep, according to the Rapid City Journal.

South Dakota is home to 3.85 million cattle. The state has almost five head of cattle for every person – the highest cattle-to-human ratio of any state.

The economic damage to the region is estimated at approximately $600 million. The vast majority of cattle ranchers do not own insurance that would cover damage from storms, according to the Associated Press.

According to coverage of the storms in Real American Cowboy Magazine, the storm took ranchers by surprise, as cattle typically stay on summer pastures until the middle of October.

Cattle in open pastures were first subjected to 12 hours of rain, followed by roughly 48 hours of wet snowfall and winds surpassing 60 miles per hour. While some survived, others froze to death or suffocated in the snow.

After the storm picked up on Thursday, Oct. 4, most ranchers were stuck inside and unable to check on herds until Sunday, Oct. 6.

Many of the region’s cattle are raised for beef, and the storm hit at a time when the nation’s beef cattle stock is at its record lowest since the 1950s, according to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard and U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) took an aerial tour of Meade County on Thursday, Oct. 10, in an effort to better grasp the scale of the damage to area ranchers. The governor said at a press conference following the surveillance that he was “dismayed” to see the large groups of dead animals scattered across the countryside. Several pits have been dug in Pennington County to help dispose of the deceased cattle.

The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association has established a donation drive to provide relief funds to affected ranchers.

© Food Safety News
  • Anna Fiona

    Not a single word regarding the moral obligation and suffering of those wretched animals. It is unconscionable that those animals were not properly protected, but then again the entire industry of animal agriculture is based on violence and cruelty. And we, the taxpayers subsidize the animal ag to the tune of $70 billion, not including government advertising assistance costs and so on.

    • abraxasMN

      And if they were in protected areas, you’d complain because they were in feed lots. No pleasing some people.

    • Oginikwe

      Buy yourself a pet steer, raise it, and learn something.

      Put your money where your mouth is.

  • susanrudnicki

    I lived on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch in Loup Co NB as a youngster, all beef pasture cattle and a small feeder lot for fattening steers. What is not being said is—these cattle were for the most part the young calves and their mothers, the calves destined for feedlots once reaching the right age. Heifers spend their lives delivering calves on the range, but the whole industry depends on a unsustainable system of corn, soy and other nutrients (even fish meals taken from factory fishing vessels scooping up so-called “feeder fish” the food chain for whales, seals, birds etc) for “finishing” beef on a diet the bovine digestive system was NEVER adapted for. It is a immense tragedy, but the heavy meat-based diet of the common American is in no way sustainable for any part of the natural systems bearing the burden of this “modern meat production” model.

  • Kim

    So even if I do not eat animal products we should not have animals (wild or domestic) because they will face horrific deaths due to nature and therefore this is inhumane? Go tell that to the pack of wolves taking down an elk or a grizzly bear eating salmon. There were a lot of trees, plants, and crops that were also destroyed due to storm. Perhaps we should stop growing these items outside since it is cruel and inhumane to subject them to such temperature extremes. Then we can spend more money on fossil fuels to create the perfect artificial enviroment.

  • adeclercq

    Bea,
    In western S.D., beef cattle are on pasture a good portion of the year. If you’ve ever been to western S.D., there are miles and miles of range land that is great for grazing, but not growing crops. Farmers bring in their cattle come winter time. The problem with this storm is that is wasn’t forecasted to be severe, it was too early in the season for the cattle to have their winter coats, and it came in so quickly farmers had no time to react. The reality is that it takes several days to round up the cattle to move for the winter.

    Being from South Dakota, I understand how much agriculture is important. I’ve been on farms, around farmers all my life. These animals, yes, they will eventually be sold for meat, but they are treated quite well. They put their heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into what they do. My dad and grandpa would spend sleepless nights during calving season making sure the heifers/cows weren’t having trouble calving, and if a calf was struggling, it would go in the basement to be bottle fed and care for. I loved when I got to help bottle feed calves! It truly broke my heart and my family’s when we had to sell all of our cattle. Also, my friends had show animals for 4-H, which were quite spoiled.

    I respect that you are passionate about your beliefs. But please don’t assume these ranchers are heartless. They are devastated, and I feel with them and for them.

  • The Turkey Tyrant

    To Bea and Anna

    Violent and Cruel????? are you blind????

    So the industry that keeps millions of people (aka Humans) from starving to death is founded on cruelty?? Do you think farmers get off to seeing cows suffer or something???

    OPEN your eyes ladies… theres no such thing as cow serial killers, pig rapist, chicken drug dealers, or turkey tyrants…

    livestock has been domesticated and killed for food for quite sometime now… get with the program, obviously your ancestors did or you wouldnt be here to voice your 1st world opinions…

    yeah I agree American protein consumption is unsustainable but your argument is just plain ignorant…

    These cows we raise here in the U.S. specifically for FOOD have a higher quality of living then most Guatemalans and your crying about it…

    Enough of your 1st world problems!! go live in the slums in central america or Africa for a week or two, then well see whos better off, the cows who have food everyday or you with no money, laying in the dirt, covered in flies, with no idea where your next meal is coming from and not the slightest clue on how to survive in the REAL WORLD.

  • Danae in Maryland

    We should support the independent ranch families affected by
    this disaster, not condemn them. I grew
    up in Wyoming and all my relatives and family were ranchers and farmers, they
    are good people and good to their livestock.
    All successful ranchers provide excellent care for their animals. Believe me; the cattle raised on
    independently owned ranches are well cared for, happy, and healthy. The breeds of cattle raised in the West are
    well suited for the rugged environment with thick winter hair and very thick
    hides. Western ranchers protect their
    animals from even the slightest amount of unnecessary stress and they observe
    and account for every single animal daily.
    I live on the East Coast now, and
    I understand how people here view the West as very foreign. Even the farms here in the East have a “city
    feel” to them compared to my upbringing in the West. Many of my friends here have never even seen a
    simple thing like the night sky unpolluted by city lights. I believe criticism of the ranchers is really
    cultural misunderstanding and the devastating death of these animals was the
    result of a “perfect storm” – not neglect.

  • callunaV

    well, American people huge meat eaters and huge – the result is this . The media only mentioned what a huge money loss this was. Keep,growing all those crops for animal feed, you who are concerned about the loss of food!

    • adeclercq

      The land out in western S.D. can’t really grow much food. So, there is a lot of range land good for grazing, but can’t support crops well.

  • MrKnowItAll58

    These cattle could have survived this “freak” storm, if they had been given the correct nutrition. Metabolism, immunity, and nutrition are so misunderstood, by the Industry, that this episode will continue for many years. Production Research, with actual understanding of the entire production cycle, has not been conducted since the early 80s. Relying on the Pharmaceutical Industry and letting marketing campaigns dictate production practices has brought about this problem.

    • adeclercq

      Please enlighten me how “correct’ nutrition could have helped the cattle survive getting buried under several feet of snow.

    • abraxasMN

      Since very smiliar stories have been published about buffalo dying in similar fashion in the 1880s, I doubt that Big Pharma had anything to do with this die off.

      • MrKnowItAll58

        A 60 HOUR event does not compare to an event that lasted for months, in 1880-1881. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a great author!

    • MrKnowItAll58

      abraxasMN, since Disqus will not take my responses, I will try it this way. Comparing a 60 hour event with the months of storms in 1880-1881 is not a comparison. “Big Pharma” has financed most production research, at colleges and universities, since the early eighties. For this reason, the Beef, Dairy, and Swine Industries have no research to even take a guess at what happened. The current nutritional information is based on research, data and information that is 40-50 years old. Metabolism is what keep animals warm and nutritional reserves are necessary to make this process successful.

  • Heather

    If the cows were frozen, could the meat not have been saved?

    • Alysa

      Even though the snow was around awhile it warmed up fairly fast. Most of the animals were taken to rendering plants. But there were animals that they still can’t get to.

  • MrKnowItAll58

    Either Disqus or the Food Safety News does NOT want to allow discussions. Sorry for the delay and inconvenience, but I did try! I can assure you that my responses were professional!

  • Alysa

    These are real people. They are neighbors and friends http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-ocHwDFXt9M They have been put through hell after working day and night after day and night taking care of these animals. We may have the freedom of speech but its our natural given right of human decency. Please respect these people by keeping negative comments to your own inner circle. The least we can do is not say anything rather than tear people down ignorant comments. They need to be lifted up and helped, which is what we are doing though the Rancher Relief Fund.