The blizzard and lessons learned

Farm Forum

Life and death are intertwined with animal agriculture. It’s a harsh reality, but as the old saying goes, “those who do not lose any livestock are the ones who do not have any livestock.” Our farmers and ranchers are prepared for that reality, but nothing could prepare us – or our livestock – for the devastating early season blizzard of Oct. 4 – 7, now called “Winter Storm Atlas.”

Thousands of cattle perished in the relentless onslaught of driving wind, freezing rain and heavy snow that pounded our communities, landscapes and the livestock of western South Dakota. This storm was an indiscriminate killer; it took the lives of cattle, sheep, horses, buffalo, deer and antelope. Adding to the loss, many ranchers were only days away from marketing their calves, paying their bills and re-investing for the future. This event is about more than just the loss of livestock; the story goes deeper.

The farmers and ranchers involved in animal agriculture provide our country and the world with access to high quality protein. The producers who lost livestock in this storm lost more than just the product of one growing season; they lost years of work. In many cases, a steadfast commitment over multiple generations to developing their herd’s genetic traits vanished in a matter of hours.

For many ranchers, the inability to protect their livestock has caused a reoccurring feeling of guilt. Clearly, this was not their fault. Winter Storm Atlas ambushed the world of our ranching families, but our fiercely independent producers will live on and rebuild. Even though many experienced sobering losses, they maintain the pioneering spirit of our ancestors. Hope remains.

In the days following the devastation, we quickly saw the outpouring of support for our affected communities and producers. Whether it was a phone call, a brief visit, a helping hand, a couple hours of volunteer labor, the loan of needed equipment or a financial gift, South Dakotans showed up. With miles and miles of fences to repair and seed stock to replace, the chores aren’t done yet.

The road to recovery is aided through your generosity. If you have enjoyed success in agriculture or have enjoyed life’s blessings, please consider a donation to the “Rancher Relief Fund” at

Please keep our ranchers and their families in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.