Press "Enter" to skip to content

Livestock Producer: Government Shirking Duty to West River Ranchers

Speaking of piecemeal privatization being no way to run a country, Heidi Marttila-Losure scolds our Governor and our Congress for not mobilizing government resources to help West River's blizzard-devastated ranchers:

The provision in the farm bill that would have helped these ranchers expired two years ago and hasn’t been renewed. Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff that could have offered some support in this kind of disaster are on furlough. For the most part, these ranchers are now helping one another instead of getting help from anywhere else.

Maybe in other circumstances, they’d be OK with that. But my guess is that the loss of so much of their livelihood has hit them like a punch in the gut. The loss of money is bad enough. Not having an answer to the question “Where do we go from here?” is worse. That’s where the government officials could provide some comfort and direction—if they were on the job.

I’ll give you the link to the donation effort (visit and search “Rancher Relief Fund”), but I am angry that this is the best our state and nation can do. This is exactly the kind of farming and ranching that keeps our rural places vibrant. The fact that there’s no official monetary help from either the state or the federal government for these ranchers in this dire need is a national embarrassment [Heidi Marttile-Losure, "Livestock Losses Come to One of the Last Independent Links in Our Food Supply," Dakotafire, 2013.10.11].

You know, if those ranchers were just closer to places where people could see billboards, I'll bet the Governor could find more help....

Related Reading:


  1. interested party 2013.10.12

    These ranchers are no different than Mike Rounds or Dan Lederman building in floodways or in Red Zones: let them eat bison.

    Rewild the West.

  2. John 2013.10.12

    The west river ranchers and their apologists by-and-large voted for Noem - let them receive the shutdown government for which they voted. Voting has consequences. Ranchers having a rough time . . . how about those furloughed, or the laid-off guardswo/men, etc?

  3. bret clanton 2013.10.12

    oh John Who Has No Name.....such you too brother...

  4. John Hess 2013.10.12

    Just so you know, John is not John Hess. If people are gonna post anonymously they should use a name that is unique, or better yet show a spine.

  5. bret clanton 2013.10.12

    How do you propose we feed this nation after we rewild the west IP? I am assuming the rewilding would also involve eliminating farming? I agree that this corporate run system will be our eventual ruination......

  6. interested party 2013.10.12

    Microchip bison and track their migration, sell permits to hunt them. 70 million bison, millions of elk and the tourists that would come see them will fund the restoration of historic habitats in the Greater Missouri Basin National Wildlife Refuge.

    It's already happening, Bret: I'm just reporting the future.

  7. interested party 2013.10.12

    My proposal has Oacoma as the eastern border so East River can remain a toxic shithole.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.12

    This all breaks my heart. I grew up on a farm with cattle and sheep. I think it's different when living creatures are dying, but I'm not up for an argument about veganism right now. Jodene Shaw was right in her blog about the animals' relationships. We do know the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts of the cows. Those animals were an actual, functioning part of the farm/ranch. It's just heartbreaking.

    The family is deeply affected. I don't know if it's similar to a small business owner's store burning down. It seems to me that deaths of living creatures deepens the loss, but it probably doesn't really matter.

    Breaks my heart.

  9. Bill Dithmer 2013.10.12


    First let me warn the reader that I write today for purely selfish reasons. It has been a few days sense the big storm but as hard as I try I just cant seem to shake this feeling. I know now that the only way to start my healing process is to write.

    Perspective,A mental view or outlook."It is useful occasionally to look at the past to gain a perspective on the present" ...

    We all have it. Some of us are born to it, inherited from those we grew up around. Some of us acquire it through our lives by just plain living. And for the rest it comes from looking through lenses colored by experiences either real or imagined by our friends or relatives.

    I find myself looking for perspective on the storm. There is really nothing that I can compare it to in my lifetime. I can only look back at what those that came before me told me about storms of the past to gain perspective on what is to come. The blizzard of 49 comes to mind as one of those giants.

    I used to set and listen to Bud, Wayne and Orville Allen along with Grandpa Frank Bauman, Grandpa Claude Berry, and my Uncle Cars talk about that storm. None had anything good to say about it other then the fact that they were sure glad when the damn thing was over.

    At that time there were no big machines to move snow only people. Sure there were fewer cattle but then again it didn't take as many cattle for a family to survive, or sheep, or any livestock for that matter. There was no way to produce the amount of hey that is needed to feed the big herds of today. I'm sure the losses of 49 were every bit as devastating to those at that time as the losses that the ranchers are feeling now are going through.

    So far my perspective on the storm hasn't helped me any. There is still a heaviness in my heart and a darkness in my soul. Every time I close my eyes the pictures keep flashing in my mind. Dead livestock, sometimes one or two at a time, and sometimes by the dozens. Every person that has ever raised animals of any kind knows the feeling. It's like being so sick that when someone kicks you in the stomach you can feel it but it's "just another brick in the wall."

    Let me tell you something about ranchers. You know it hasn't been that many years ago that most of the people that lived in the city had a relationship with someone that lived in the country. They knew where that steak came from, those lamb chops, that gallon of milk.

    Now not so much. The great depression took care of that. Some sold, others lost their land to the bank, and still others lost it to taxes, moving to to the city for a better way of life returning to the country with less and less frequency every decade. What you see today are the remnants of the ones that stayed, "the ranchers."

    Let me ask you a question. When you are driving down the road in western South Dakota and see cattle out grazing what do you think about, or do you think about it?

    I know for some they see stacks of hundred dollar bills walking around. Not a rancher.

    Some see steaks eating grass. Not a rancher.

    Some see what they think is the easy life or money and power for the people that own those cattle. Not a rancher.

    A real rancher see something completely different. they see an animal that needs their help to become the best that they can be. They worry about such things as flies, grubs, hoof rot, pinkeye, scours, dust pneumonia, pneumonia of the other many kinds, vitamin deficiencies, venereal disease, broken penises, snake bites, and if they have enough water and grass to make it through the next month.

    Ranchers don't usually think about money on the hoof, they are to busy taking care of cattle to do that. They think about vaccinations, pregnancy testing, the quality of the hey that they put up, and trading help with the neighbors who are thinking about the same things.

    Something that most people don't understand about every successful rancher is the passion that they have for their livestock. No rancher is content to just let nature take its course. They are forever optimistic about the changes that they themselves can project on their herds because they are "predisposed to the romance of genetics."

    I'm sure that you have seen the bull sale advertisements. Well every rancher that goes to one of these sales has the same thing on his or her mind. They might not be thinking in these exact words but they would mean the same thing.

    The way it is
    The way it was
    And the way it will be

    Some of these ranches have been around for as long as the one I'm on, nearly a hundred years. I have known many of these people all of my life and my folks knew their folks before us. The stock that was lost in the last week represent for some over ten generations of genetics. Just imagine that. The loss of so many years of genetic engineering gone in a weeks time, never to return. These cattle weren't just numbers in a book, they were a part of the family. Some with genetic markers that showed up generation after generation.

    For some there will be no recovery. There comes a point in time where the love of the ranch becomes second to ones life and those that they love.

    I myself don't know of a single rancher that doesn't have money owed to someone. That's just the facts of life. I read elsewhere that for every cow that was lost it will cost that rancher between $3,000 and $5,000 to fix the loss.

    First the loss of the cow itself. Then the loss of the calf that was inside that cow. Then the final insult, the cost to replace that cow.

    For some their mental stability will be hard to recover to. For them the reality of the loss and the burden of the money it would take to rebuild will just be to much to bare. Please think about these people, your friends, in the coming weeks, months, and years ahead.

    Remember the people that would have done anything for you, and in many cases did just that. Don't turn away when you see them walking down the other side of the street. You cant fix a broken heart but you can go a long way toward bringing peace to a broken mind and soul.

    For some of these people the loss was like being one of the only survivors in a military operation. they will never forget the carnage that they saw.

    But you know, ranchers are a resilient bunch of people. If there is a way to fix what is broken you can bet your ass that they will do just that.

    I'm not sure yet if I helped myself or not. I'm one of those ranchers that rents out their ranch, but the pain I feel for my neighbors is still the same. Let me add that some of my neighbors live a couple hundred miles away, that's just the way it is. I just keep going back to those words that I wrote before.

    The way it is
    The way it was
    And the way it will be

    The Blindman

  10. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.12

    Thank you Blindman. That is exactly right. Exactly.

    I have a weight on me, a pressure. The sun came out here in St. Paul and I looked up surprised. I thought it was all dark and gloomy out.

    Time is my ally. Bit by bit. In the spring I'll drive out in the country to watch baby calves and lambs skip and dance. In the meantime, small living things are my best healers. Human babies especially. They are magical. I'll allow my loved ones to comfort me, and stay in their good company.

    I'll write more, as you do Blindman. Writing has healing properties. Thank you for reminding me that there are things I can do to help myself. You too.

  11. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.10.12

    Y'all need to read what Linda Hasselstrom has written on her blog,
    What a nightmare for so many people.

    One of the things that is frightening to me about this stems from growing up on a farm in the 1980s:

    Reagan's Ag Sec and policies had decimated farming and farms were foreclosed daily. Sheriff's farm sales were routine, except to the farm families. The story is long, but one of the results was farmer suicides, especially in the Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas and Missouri.

    My father came within a microscopic eyelash of being one of those suicides. Neighbors were in nearly the same condition. Drinking became rampant, domestic abuse, marriages crushed under the pressure, families rent apart.

    The politics of this, climate change, government involvement . . all those things are legitimate topics of discussion. But I'm not the only one who can't get that far. It's critical to know that those aren't the Only Topics.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.10.12

    That's a good personal story from Linda! It also reminds us how hard it would be to survive if we really shut things down and expected everyone to be self-reliant.

Comments are closed.