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Blizzard Disaster for West River Ranchers; No Time for Shutdown Shenanigans

The national news gives West River's October blizzard the usual blippy coverage and chirpy newslady-weatherman banter about being glad they're not in South Dakota (exactly the scene I saw on TV this evening... but never my words. Never.).

Be glad you're not a cow... or a rancher in Meade County, where the word disaster can be used without exaggeration:

Jule Lamb with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Transportation Department, traveling near Dupree on SD Hwy 212 came to a stop, seeing something partially buried by the snow. A closer inspection found cattle, buried two and three deep – near the Woodward ranch. Now, officials are estimating there are many more similar scenes out in the country where many producers haven’t brought their cattle home yet in what is the traditional fall roundup season [Francie Ganje, "October Blizzard Taking a Toll on Livestock," KBHB Radio, 2013.10.06].

Read Ganje's full report, and you'll be done telling blizzard jokes for the season.

Read the final paragraph of Ganje's report cri de cœur, and you should also be done playing politics and shutting down your government:

These first early reports of the loss of livestock on the outer plains may bring the Governor closer to declaring a natural disaster – that will pave the way for a federal designation and financial assistance. That is, if elected Congressional representatives supporting the present federal government shut down decide it’s time to stop holding the taxpaying public and their needs, hostage [Ganje, 2013.10.06].

I'm pretty sure Senator Johnson is listening. Rep. Noem, Senator Thune, you should be, too. It's time for you, as South Dakotans, to cut through the la-tee-da-pretty-snow crap and get everyone back to work solving the problems we form government to solve.


  1. jerry 2013.10.06

    My neighbor tells me that there were big losses of livestock south and east of Rapid City. You are correct Cory, these were part of the fall round up. No word about what NOem and Thune are proposing for the inevitable flooding that will happen with the warm up like today. I am thinking that Butte County will have their hands full. No calls that I have seen for a mobilization of National Guard for that service, guess we will just have to ride it out. This livestock loss is bad news for us all.

  2. jerry 2013.10.06

    Correction, Denny did mobilize the Guard for this and good for him. Now to be able to pay them.

  3. Jana 2013.10.07

    Thune, Johnson and especially you Noem...people are being hurt. Real people. Particularly the most vulnerable among us.

    End the petty politics and stop giving the comedians and historians things to laugh at. The people being hurt are bigger than you. They are us.

    End it.

  4. interested party 2013.10.07

    You don't need a weather man
    To know which way the wind blows.

  5. interested party 2013.10.07

    South Dakota digging out from record snowfall is in line with the upward trend in extreme precipitation in the US:

  6. TG 2013.10.07

    Many livestock dead in Meade County. One rancher lost 15 horses. Very sad. Thank God for the warmer temps today. Many still without power. Sad to see this kind of thing knowing we're not paying others at a federal level that had no input into the situation while Congress is still drawing a paycheck. Every cow/horse lost is money out of their pockets. Kind of puts things in perspective. Pathetic.

  7. Steve 2013.10.07

    I saw a similar story about the devastation of the tornados in the southeast of the state. Again, the hope was that disaster relief would be forthcoming, but will be made more confusing or delayed by the shut down.

    I hope tragic events like these will remind us that the big-bad-government is really nothing more than us. It is the organization we have as a society to help each other out when the need is there. Like the ranchers under snow, and homeowners whose homes have been destroyed by storms, the uninsured and the poor need some help too. All those seems like realms I want my government to step in to help.

    Imagine the outrage if a splinter faction of a political party shut down the government unless and until their demands to de-fund emergency disaster relief were met.

  8. John Hess 2013.10.07

    What caused the loss? Someone told me horses won't eat snow, but cattle will. It wasn't extremely cold.

  9. TG 2013.10.07

    I suspect as the cattle (way out in the pastures, not in barns or easy to get to) tried moving away but vehicles had 3 feet of snow over the top of them. There probably comes a time where they can't move any further due to the snow and the snow blows over the top of them. Will try to find out more though as it was getting pretty cold in houses with no electricity...

  10. Douglas Wiken 2013.10.07

    Not sure if it is always the case, but when I had cattle, they would tend to drift with rain, but walk into snow. They would stop at fencelines and tramp calves into mud, manure, and snow.

  11. John Hess 2013.10.07

    That makes sense they would get smothered, although the photo from Cory's link looks like the snow isn't deep there.

    In what areas would the Federal government help? Would there be direct payment made to cattle producers?

  12. interested party 2013.10.07

    Rewild the West.

  13. bret clanton 2013.10.07

    The cattle do not have their winter hair on. It goes from 65 degrees to a blizzard in one day. The cattle are all on summer pastures far from home and protection. It was an extremely suffocating blizzard where as they can not see or breathe. They blow with the wind in the dark running over cutbanks, into fences and into water.....shit happens..... Just another thought if we can get through this without federal help why don't we try it once if not well........

  14. bret clanton 2013.10.07

    Horses will eat snow and a cow will also when they get dry enough. But that has to do with an extended winter situation and has nothing to do with a 2 day blizzard......

  15. interested party 2013.10.07

    "Tim Johnson (D-SD) led a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing a resolution designating November 2, 2013, the first Saturday of November, as 'National Bison Day.'"

  16. jerry 2013.10.07

    Of course bret clanton, why not get by if you can. No one forces you to take any help, but if you need it, it should be there. Now if you are a wealthy rancher like yourself, you can make it on your own. If you are a young rancher just starting out and you have been through a couple of years of severe drought and have managed to just hang on with the high prices of hay and whatnot, you may not have the ka-ching that you have and will be out of a livelihood right quick like. Of course that will then open the doors for well healed investors to buy up that land and put more cattle upon it or not. But that investor beast must be satisfied and the only way to do that is to raise prices on lower cattle numbers. The Blindman put that into words some time back. But the gist of it is that without help, we may loose some of our ranchers that we can ill afford to loose.

  17. bret clanton 2013.10.07

    What makes you think I have any ka-ching Jerry Who Has No Name? I am a rancher who works the ranch by myself and my wife works in town to supplement. I have used federal ag programs in the past to update modern conservation practices. The young farmer rancher you refer to is nonexistent. The only young people in ag today are continuing family operations or someone sharecropping for an absentee investor. You know who I am so what makes you such an expert on west river ranching?...

  18. bret clanton 2013.10.07

    Late spring storms and early fall storms are always the worst killers due to the sudden changes. Livestock cannot adjust kind of like all the pictures of vehicles stranded on the highways by people who should have known better than to be traveling in a blizzard. My point being people have a hard time adjusting to severe weather changes also .....

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.07

    I'm no expert at ranching—I hadn't thought about winter hair until Bret mentioned. That makes this early storm all the worse. Did Harding County get blanketed heavily, Bret? Is it all melting away today?

  20. Doug Wiken 2013.10.07

    Cattle would be extinct if humans didn't take care of them.

  21. bret clanton 2013.10.07

    Eastern Harding County was hit hard but not so much west. Grand Electric reporting over 2000 poles down. Sun shining bright today and the melt has begun...And the counting also :(

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.07

    Senator Johnson establishes that the shutdown is making things worse for West River ranchers:

    "While total losses are still being determined, this major blizzard has killed huge numbers of livestock across western South Dakota. Exacerbating these losses is the fact that the government shutdown has shuttered USDA’s Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) offices across the state. As a result, producers don’t even have anyone to contact at USDA for assistance in documenting losses" [Senator Tim Johnson, press release, 2013.10.07].

    West River, FSA is shut thanks to Kristi Noem. Remember that next November.

  23. jerry 2013.10.07

    I am only an expert on reading. That said, part of my family came here ranching and I understand it enough to know when someone has either done it or claims to have. You sir mentioned very eloquently this " Just another thought if we can get through this without federal help why don't we try it once if not well."

    That is at best condescending and tends to show an old feller like myself that you are above the fray and think others must be like yourself. I indicated that no one forces anyone to take the help, but it needs to be available as this storm was an obvious killer. Yes, there are young ranchers who may well be leasing ground as the cost has skyrocketed to the point that only the rich can afford it now, but they still exist and those are among the most needy for any assistance. Myself, I hope that you did not loose any of your stock as any loss is difficult to adjust to.

  24. Kevin Weiland 2013.10.07

    How many buffalo died? My guess, zero.

  25. Kevin Weiland 2013.10.07

    Thanks Cory for Thais and all that you do to keep us informed. Tip jar time.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.07

    Kevin's got a point: maybe DRA will get extra requests from Farm Beginnings students to talk about raising buffalo.

  27. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.07

    Wow. Brokaw's report tells how terrible the storm was. In 2005 in the spring there was a heavy wet snowfall in northwest SD. I was living in Newell at the time. From Newell to Faith about 90% of the power line poles were brought down. That created a great deal of hardship for all those folks. I hate to think of what they are struggling through now.

    It's a good thing global warming is not real.

  28. John 2013.10.07

    Hey, most of those cattle ranchers voted for NOem - so shut em down like shutting down the government. Really - voting has consequences. Deal with it - like you're self reliant. And why raise genetically inferior cattle when the Great Plains and bison are genetically compatible. Many, many sad lessons here to relearn but the biggest lesson will be the shrill whine for yet another federal bailout, while folks then continue voting against their interests.

  29. bret clanton 2013.10.07

    My answer to that Jerry would be principles. Even though I can not always honor them I still have them..... And to John another person with no name but all the answers.....

  30. jerry 2013.10.07

    Of course, we are sinners all. Welcome, with or without names or principles, the keyboard makes it even and free flowing.

  31. frank white 2013.10.14

    I would be curious what the statistics are for bison vs cattle. I think more and more americans would prefer the bison for edibility as it is supposed to be bettr all around. I think they would also take pride in the fact they are contributing to the propigation of a native species. That is which way the wind is blowing. Sorry gor your losses. How did sheep fare?

  32. Eddy 2013.10.14

    There were over 50 head of Bison dead se of Hermosa. So for all you bison lovers "ranch on"!!!

  33. bret clanton 2013.10.14

    For heavens sake don't tell IP that Eddy.......

  34. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.14

    Eddy, that bison died along with cattle reflects the extraordinary strength of this storm. If it had been just snow, many more four-leggeds would have survived. But they got drenched first, then frozen, then snowed on. That's the deadliest combination.

  35. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.14

    Frank, I have no idea what the stats may be for cattle, bison, and sheep. The South Dakota Animal Industry Board is coordinating the rendering trucks; they may be in a good position to provide data when this grim work is done.

    I do agree that bison taste good and are good for the West River ecosystem... assuming we let them roam and don't try to turn them into cattle.

  36. grudznick 2013.10.14

    Yes. Roam free. Because they don't taste as good if they're unhappy because they can't roam wherever their little gerbil minds tell them to go. Roam free indeed.

    They are cattle.

  37. jerry 2013.10.14

    When we speak of the cattle not having their winter coats, I am also reading about the reports that thousands of cattle were sent here from Texas and New Mexico because of the severe drought conditions there (,0,3708892.story) I am curious to know if these reported cattle were owned by South Dakota ranchers or if they had leased their pasture to out of state interests. Dead cattle are dead cattle for sure, but it does make me wonder about what and how the reimbursement for ownership might take place in the next couple of days now that the government will open back up. Anyone know?

  38. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.14

    Ooh! I hadn't heard that angle, Jerry. Would there be any public documentation of cattle shipments like that?

  39. jerry 2013.10.14

    The article does not say "sold cattle", it says relocated cattle. If there is no bill of sale from the sale rings, that means that the cattle may well be owned by out of state interests and they do like we sometimes do, go to other states where the grass grows. If the pasture lease is right, could be better than to sell these bred cows.

  40. jerry 2013.10.14

    That could help explain what Bret Clanton brought up about not having winter hair yet. Cattle in some parts of Texas and New Mexico don't see much snow if any and they would also not be familiar with the terrain of these new pastures. Get soaked to the bone and then a 60 mph full of snow wind coming at you, and even if you are a cow that is familiar with the pasture, you are doomed if you cannot get out of the wind. These relocated cows did not have much of a chance at all.

  41. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.14

    I wonder if the buffalo that died were out on the range, or in a feedlot?

    In the mid 70s there was a severe drought in East River. Farmers sold their herds, or shipped them West River because there was good pasture there. With so many herds being sold, prices were terrible. We leased land west of Holabird. It was really incredible. Our Hand County pastures were just nubs. The Holabird grass was belly-high.

    We had no problems with any aspects of the entire process, but there were no monster early season blizza-canes either. That was pre-global warming days.

  42. interested parth 2013.10.14

    trust; but, verify.

    good link, jerry.

  43. interested party 2013.10.14

    parth on.

  44. bret clanton 2013.10.14

    Northern, southern, cattle, horses none of them had winter hair yet. It was just a very bad storm that killed domestic animals as well as all forms of wildlife..... Mother nature still does rule.....

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