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Up to 100,000 South Dakota Cattle Die in Blizzard

By Clay Jackson
Veterinary Practice News

Posted: Oct. 11, 2013, 6:30 p.m. EDT

To James Myers, DVM, who has served the ranchers of Belle Fourche, S.D., for 43 years, the livestock losses from an early October blizzard were "devastating.”

"No one for sure knows how many head they’ve lost because the cattle drifted so bad,” Dr. Myers said.

Given that many of the ranches extend for thousands of acres, some animals "drifted,” or scattered, up to 20 miles last weekend amid 70 mph winds and 3 to 4 feet of snow.

"I talked to a guy yesterday who got his cows into his corrals and sorted them for ownership and found 13 different brands,” Myers said.

Official estimates of the losses across South Dakota are 60,000 to 100,000 head.

 Angus
South Dakota's cattle population before the storm was estimated at 3.85 million.
Seven to 8-month-old spring calves made up a significant portion of the dead, Myers said.

"There are still a lot buried, but we lost an equal number of cows and calves,” he said.

"We’ve had three- to five-day blizzards before and haven’t lost near the cattle that we did in this thing, which lasted 18 hours,” Myers added.

The condition of the cattle and the brutal weather led to catastrophic losses. Agriculture officials estimated that herds will need up to two years to fully recover.

"The cows all still had their summer coats, which are short and sparse and the snow got right to the hide,” Myers noted.

Had the blizzard happened later in the fall, the animals would have grown thicker, protective winter coats, he said.

"Many of them got exhausted, laid down and died of hypothermia,” Myers noted. "It was the whole scenario that killed them.”

The scene once the storm cleared was sickening.

"It’s like someone dumped a shaker of salt on the ground and then sprinkled pepper on it,” Myers said, describing snowy pastures dotted with dead cattle.  

The shutdown of the federal government is adding to ranchers’ woes, the veterinarian said.

"Normally a disaster declaration is sent by the governor to Congress, but with the government shut down, no one knows if and when relief will come,” Myers said.

While the financial losses were hard, the trouble is much deeper.

"These cows are more to these guys than property,” he said, "and to find 50 to 60 dead in one place—there’s a mental and emotional part to this disaster.

"It’s bad, but they are tough people or they wouldn’t be living in this country.”

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Up to 100,000 South Dakota Cattle Die in Blizzard

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Reader Comments
I feel deeply sorry for the cows. with all the high tect & weather warnings there live cut short. we have to start taking of our animals food chain a little better. I work 2nd. shift I see two semi with cow going to the stock yards. how many semi did we lose? I think our government need to help those farmers. as soon as possible. we always help other country. I pray to God that help is on the way.
Joe, Waukesha, WI
Posted: 10/27/2013 6:29:03 PM
I feel deeply sorry for the cows. with all the high tect & weather warnings there live cut short. we have to start taking of our animals food chain a little better. I work 2nd. shift I see two semi with cow going to the stock yards. how many semi did we lose? I think our government need to help those farmers. as soon as possible. we always help other country. I pray to God that help is on the way.
Joe, Waukesha, WI
Posted: 10/27/2013 6:27:56 PM
I feel deeply sorry for the cows. with all the high tect & weather warnings there live cut short. we have to start taking of our animals food chain a little better. I work 2nd. shift I see two semi with cow going to the stock yards. how many semi did we lose? I think our government need to help those farmers. as soon as possible. we always help other country. I pray to God that help is on the way.
Joe, Waukesha, WI
Posted: 10/27/2013 6:26:02 PM
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