Devastating blow dealt to livestock producers with October blizzard

Farm Forum

Some weeks you wonder how much the ag industry can stand. As rains have finally started coming to some of the driest parts of the area, news that moisture is reviving pastures has been welcome, but a huge wallop by Mother Nature in the form of a blizzard has knocked many ranchers off their feet.

October is one of those transitional months. With mostly mild temperatures, livestock enjoy grazing the late season grasses out on pastures. On the eastern side of the state, the soybean fields and cornfields are being combined, despite the lack of a hard frost for the year. It’s a typical year.

Temperatures can tumble below freezing, but it’s hard to think of snow more than a dusting or an inch or two. For the western part of the state to be covered with 3 to 4 feet of snow, not just gently blanketed, is totally unprecedented. One area reported 55 inches.

Our thoughts go out to all those whose animals that wandered through the blizzard and succumbed to the elements. How devastating to head out to check your herd and find so many of your animals gone. With such treacherous conditions, those wanting to do more for their animals were unable to do so.

One rancher noted, “It’s personal.” That certainly is true. These animals are the lifeblood of families. So many have struggled to provide feed and water to the animals during the drought. Now that grass is greening, the loss of such a huge percentage of animals tears at the very foundation of the livestock industry. Many in the western part of South Dakota and North Dakota have dealt with brutal times, but these trials will certainly have a huge impact on the future of the cattle business in the state. As one producer noted, some of the cows that survived were pregnant, and the stresses may affect future calves.

I’ve spent some time at local sale barns this week. Cattle prices are on the rise, and there is talk that with the price of corn going down, maybe herds will start to be rebuilt. When considering that potentially 5 percent of the cattle supply may have perished, that’s huge. Some individual ranchers reported losses of 20 percent to 50 percent of their livestock. On Tuesday, cattle losses were estimated at 60,000 head in South Dakota.

Coupled with the losses, government assistance is at a standstill. With Washington’s inability to pass a new farm bill so far, the Livestock Indemnity Program in place to limit the losses cattle producers incur from natural disasters expired with the 2008 farm bill on Oct. 1, the first day of the government shutdown.

And yet the resiliency of the those people is amazing. Some of the internet postings indicate that this is part of what their life is all about and point to neighbors who have it worse. Photos of those animals crowded into draws and caught in fences are a stark reminder of how hard those animals tried to survive. Worse yet is the need to remove the carcasses and dispose of the animals in a timely manner to prevent disease in the future. Those people with losses are out taking care of the animals that have survived, and they will survive, too.

Fund to help

Several ag groups are working together to create a relief fund to help western South Dakota livestock producers.