Tens of thousands of cattle killed in Friday's blizzard, ranchers say


devastating situation for ranchers in South Dakota. As a farm boy at heart, my heart breaks for these ranchers. Read in another article that as fence lines were buried under drifts, cattle were able to walk right over the fences in search of shelter.

As noted below, there was nothing ranchers could do to protect their herds as cattle are still out in summer pastures.

More inside the link.


Tens of thousands of cattle lie dead across South Dakota on Monday following a blizzard that could become one of the most costly in the history of the state’s agriculture industry.

As state officials spent the day calculating the multi-million dollar impact to the regional economy from Friday’s storm, ranchers began digging up hundreds of cattle that are still buried beneath feet of snow.

“This is absolutely, totally devastating,” said Steve Schell, a 52-year-old rancher from Caputa. “This is horrendous. I mean the death loss of these cows in this country is unbelievable.”

Schell said he estimated he had lost half of his herd, but it could be far more. He was still struggling to find snow-buried cattle and those that had been pushed miles by winds that gusted at 70 miles per hour on Friday night.

Martha Wierzbicki, emergency management director for Butte County, said the trail of carcasses was a gruesome sight across the region.

“They’re in the fence line, laying alongside the roads,” she said. “It’s really sickening.”

Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, said most ranchers she had spoken to were reporting that 20 to 50 percent of their herds had been killed.

“I have never heard of anything like it,” she said. “And none of the ranchers I have talked to can remember anything like it.”

While South Dakota ranchers are no strangers to blizzards, what made Friday’s storm so damaging was how early it arrived in the season.

Christen said cattle hadn’t yet grown their winter coats to insulate them from freezing wind and snow.

In addition, Christen said, during the cold months, ranchers tend to move their cattle to pastures that have more trees and gullies to protect them from storms. Because Friday’s storm arrived so early in the year, most ranchers were still grazing their herds on summer pasture, which tend to be more exposed and located farther away from ranch homes.


Now this is something I haven’t seen in the news. It seems so enormous.


I didn’t know about it either until I was on a ranching message board this morning. Sad situation that is going to severely hurt the economy of South Dakota and may lead to higher beef prices for all.


I guess it doesn’t fit into the global warming agenda either. Unless global warming causes freezing temperatures and early winters. :o

I’d like to see what Ridgerunner has to say.


I can’t speak for Ridgerunner, but I think he would point out that a colder world would have far more devastating consequences for the environment and people than a warmer world. Recent cold snaps in various parts of the world have done a lot of damage.






Ridgerunner does raise cattle. This just seems like such a catastrophe.


So would I. :slight_smile:

This is not unprecedented, but it’s rare. A similar blizzard killed tens of thousands of cattle in that general region back in the 1880s or 1890s. It too was unseasonable and sudden. Temperatures dropped from the 60s to below zero in a single day. Killed a lot of people too, and I pray that none died or will die in this.

This is terrible for the ranchers, who would almost certainly not have been insured for this, therefore for the economy of the whole area.

It’s also bad for consumers. The national cattle herd was already at its lowest point in 60 years, and this just makes it worse. Feed lots are having a lot of trouble getting enough feeders to keep the processors going, even though ranchers are selling most of their heifers to slaughter, which would otherwise be the replacement and expansion stock.

Because of the already-existing shortage, replacement cattle are really expensive. It’s going to be hard for those ranchers to buy back. Even a cheap, mixed-breed cow in her bearing years will cost $1,000. My impression is that they had real quality breeding stock up there, so they’re looking at $1600 or more per mother cow to replace what they had. Even yearling heifers that are at least two years away from having a saleable calf will cost them $800 or so each.

The losses will be huge, and agricultural lenders are going to be in a world of hurt up there.

And, no, I don’t attribute it to global warming, any more that I attribute the similar storm in the 19th Century to it.

Ranchers in unaffected regions will benefit, of course, as will traders who were “long” on feeders. But I doubt anybody takes any comfort in that, since prices are already high, and ranchers tend to be sympathetic with other ranchers, no matter what. And a lot of them know each other, despite distances. A sizeable rancher in Texas would almost certainly know any big rancher in the Dakotas who has quality stock.

Probably will affect the grain markets too, which are already down from the levels of the last few years.


Thanks! :slight_smile:

It’s also bad for consumers. The national cattle herd was already at its lowest point in 60 years, and this just makes it worse. Feed lots are having a lot of trouble getting enough feeders to keep the processors going, even though ranchers are selling most of their heifers to slaughter, which would otherwise be the replacement and expansion stock.

I remember you posted this on another thread, so I’m glad you brought his up and how it will play in the mix.





Depends on where you are. That same cold snap brought somewhat cooler temperatures here and quite a bit of rain. We weren’t hurting for rain, but it was timely and welcome anyway. It works both ways, too. A sudden warm front hitting a cold front here also produces rain. So, in reality, for this particular part of the country, “change” is beneficial. “Stability”, whether cool or warm, isn’t.


This would be amusing if it wasn’t so sad. Appears the USDA has shut down lots of things, including local market reports, equipment rentals, etc. Of course, one can still see the cattle futures because that’s privately run. Also, the live auctions are still on the stockyards sites. And too, there are private equipment rentals.

Do we really need the USDA for things like this? Makes one truly wonder about a lot of the stuff this government funds. Wonder just how many “government functions” private entities would take over if the government stepped out.


Biased reporting from NBC with no mention of cattle being in summer pastures that offer little protection (unlike winter pastures) and that cattle hadn’t developed their winter coat yet.



What a joke the article is!

First of all, the government would not replace the cattle, no matter what. The most it ever does is offer low-interest loan guarantees, probably through FSA. But the interest rate environment is already low, so it won’t be much of a benefit. Nobody is going to be buying replacement cattle anytime soon, or has to. You can buy them at other stockyards or on video auction (lots of that in that area) from anywhere in the country, of any kind and of any age group. There’s no rush.

Also, the government underwriting will be no different from what it ever is through FSA. If a rancher has lost so many he’s toes up, he won’t get a loan either. And, for ranchers whose losses aren’t too great for their finances to handle, bankers will make loans without FSA guarantees.

Even sillier is the part about cattle being “more vulnerable” to diseases like IBR and BVD. All cattle are vulnerable to those diseases all the time, snow or no snow, unless they have been vaccinated. Those diseases are endemic. Any rancher who doesn’t vaccinate against those diseases (and more) is a total fool, and I have not met a rancher in probably 20 years who doesn’t do it.

The dead cattle will be a problem. The state will waive the 36 hour requirement, but every bulldozer guy in two states will be there with his rig if they get a call. They will do the burying for the very few ranchers who don’t have tractors with front-end loaders. But there won’t be many of those. Virtually no rancher is without at least one substantial tractor with a front-end loader, because that’s what you feed the cattle with in the wintertime. You just switch out your hay fork, which everybody has, and put on your scoop, which everybody has. Nobody likes doing it, but it isn’t as if it can’t be done.

Some even have Bobcats, which are even more efficient for digging. Some ranchers even have their own bulldozers.

sometimes cattle die under the best of circumstances, and every rancher in North America knows how to bury them.

(A little secret, though. Around here, sometimes they’ll just hide the carcass in the woods because bald eagles and buzzards will eat them in short order, and some people like to ensure food for the eagles and buzzards.) Shhhhhhhhhh.:wink:

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