BEEF Daily

Early South Dakota Blizzard Leaves Thousands Of Cattle Dead


Early October blizzard hits South Dakota and Wyoming ranchers hard.

Ready or not, winter is here for some parts of the country. Over the weekend, we received some heavy rainfall and cooler temperatures at our home in eastern South Dakota, but our counterparts to the west were hit hard by a blizzard that is being called one of the worst in South Dakota’s history. With more than 2 ft. of snow in some areas, and 60-mph hour wind gusts, there was no way to prepare for this early bout of winter.

As plows continue to dig out cities and rural areas, reports are beginning to come in from ranchers struggling through heavy snow to evaluate the damage. It’s been estimated that 5-10% of cattle in western South Dakota have been killed by the storm, although some are reporting losses as high as a devastating 20%.

A ranching friend of mine out of Union Center, SD, wrote a real-life testimony about the storm and how it impacted her ranch on her Facebook profile.

She said, “Discouraging day. Cows are smart and know the draws to hunker down in, in just about any direction the storm comes from. But when the storm fills your hiding place, you must leave or get buried. Many cows did not leave and did not survive. The cows that left got stuck in drifts and had the same fate.”

She says cows driven by the winds crossed into adjoining properties. The cows clustered around her house are from five different owners. “The cows and calves are disoriented and difficult to pair up,” she reports.

“The first thing we did the morning after the storm was put hay out for the sheep, and dig out the opening of the barn to let the sheep out. They did not want to leave. It was dark in the barn, and their eyes were not accustomed to the light, so it was a slow process.

“After that, we spent day two looking for cows. The four-wheeler is helpless; the snow is deep and wet. We had to walk or drive the tractor in search for the cattle. Cows are off and cannot find where to cross the creek or even how to get around the deepest part of the snow bank. The dogs and I bunch them. When I step through the snow, it is water and under the water, it is green grass. When the tractor moved the snow, it had a hint of blue.

“Our losses are better than some but painful. I am sure this will give me bad dreams in the future.”

I visited with South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Sarah Caslin, who didn’t have accurate estimates of total death loss at press time. But she did have a few pieces of information she wanted to pass along to ranchers.


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First off, she said anyone suffering livestock losses keep good records. “Take photos and get third-party verification when feasible. With the federal government shutdown, we aren’t sure yet who to report these losses to, but it will be helpful to have the information once a reporting location is identified. Additionally, we also suggest contacting the South Dakota Animal Industry Board at 605-773-3321 for information about carcass disposal and contact information for rendering plants.”

My heart aches for my ranching friends and fellow South Dakotans who are suffering the worst of this storm. I know the pains of trying to care for livestock through a blizzard. We’ve been snowed in for 11 days without electricity before, and it was a challenge to keep waterers from freezing up, keep tractors running, and keep spirits high as we battled the elements to fight for our cattle and their safety.

I will continue to post updates on the storm as I receive them and add them to this blog, so keep checking back for more information. If you would like to report cattle loss or personal testimonies from this storm, please comment below or email me at Prayers and words of encouragement for our ranchers would also be appreciated. Leave those in the comments section below as well.

Edited to add:

There is a Facebook page offering updates on the blizzard, now being called Atlas, that is sharing photos, stories and even an auction to support the ranchers impacted. 

One rancher reported a loss of 347 of 400 weaned calves. Another rancher has only been able to locate 23 of 900 head of cattle. One rancher from Faith, SD, reported a loss of 71 cows and 115 calves. More numbers will be added as we receive reports.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 25

Karl Fox (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

Keep fighting to save those calves.The farmer feeders in North East Iowa have a lot of late planted corn that is very slow to mature. We are gonna need those calves to eat this silage and high moisture corn. I appreciate your dedication and stamina.

JB (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

These stories. Make my own situations seam so small. My prayers and heart goes out to the people of South Dakota.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

a terrible situation.....we all are thinking of you

jcwise (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

what's the facebook page for the farm quoted?

Tammi Didlot (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

My prayers are with all the ranchers and families dealing with loss, frustration and heartbreak. Having gone through a devastating storm, my heart goes out to these families. Just know if God brought you to it, he will help you through it.

Marlena (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

It actually hit some ranchers here in Sioux and Dawes County, Nebraska really hard too. I've heard of some pretty terrible losses on the Pine Ridge.

on Oct 8, 2013

Sending many prayers from Northeast Iowa! My heart aches for all of the families and their livestock affected.

Kara (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

We are in Mt and suffered a devastating loss in a spring storm in 06 so I know what our fellow ranches are going through. We have cattle pastured in SD north of Belle Fourche. The storm was not as bad there but the losses are. We were lucky to find most of our cattle alive but they blew 6 or miles through fences and we are getting them back. One man that had fed our calves in previous years lost 260 yearling heifers and some pairs. I have heard of another man who lost 100 pairs. This is so unimaginable and I am praying for all effected. The mental stress of this kind of loss for us was shocking and I cannot even imagine losing the numbers I have been hearing about. My heart hurts for them all. People who are not farmers and ranches have no idea what we go through to get our crops and cattle raised to provide food for others and one snow storm or hail storm can wipe it all away in a matter of hours. Many of these ranches will not be able to recover and that is heartbreaking.

dt (not verified)
on Oct 9, 2013

I too now live in Montana, but spent the first 33 years of my life in the northern Black Hills (Sturgis/Belle Fourche). My heart breaks for my many South Dakota friends who have suffered losses from this brutal storm. Kara, you are correct that most (including myself) do not understand the daily challenges of farming and ranching community. I work with ranchers as a part of my job and have some understanding. What I cannot or will not ever be able to fully comprehend is the mental anguish these individuals are going though. My heart breaks for all of you.

Mike J (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

My thoughts and prayed go out to each rancher who is working to get through this. Although I am in East Tenn and cannot imagine such disaster be encouraged.

Fred/Rosetta (not verified)
on Oct 8, 2013

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have losses. Sure hope you can still find cattle alive and be able to save them.

Amanda (not verified)
on Oct 9, 2013

Prayers with all the ranchers and their families as they try to sort out what this storm has taken from them. It saddens me to see such a loss and such a hard hit their cattle industry has taken. Can't imagine what that would be like if it happened to my own cattle.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 9, 2013

I to feel for the ranchers. As of the year ending I to suffered major losses do to 2012 drought. 6 open cows 8 cows lost at calving/and 18 dead calves due to cold wet blizzardly calfing seaon of 2013. But the love animals determination to continue has pushed me on. That day of the storm when my wife called me at work saying she couldn't see the machine shed I got nervous anxious and sick to my stomach knowing financially I couldn't take more loss but only ended up with 3 inches that stayed the nite. Keep your head up high and preserver on. Its always works out in the end. ND rancher

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 9, 2013

My thoughts and prayers are with all of you effected from this devastating storm. It is so sad to hear of all the devastating loses. I'm a feedlot manager in Kansas and I do hope you all can survive this horrible tragedy.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 10, 2013

My thoughts and prayers go out to you. I wish I was close enough to come and help. I am in Mississippi and have hunted near you and know how fast the weather can change.

Homeschool on the Croft (not verified)
on Oct 10, 2013

So sorry to hear this. Here in Scotland, we have so few *extremes* in our weather, and can hardly imagine having to take in these losses of livestock. :'(

on Oct 10, 2013

From the cattle farming community of South Africa, our hearts and prayers go out to you folk in South Dakota.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 11, 2013

For the most part, this horrific story has not been reported by the main stream media. This has been predicted for several years by scientist, John Casey (author of Cold Sun) and others on the opposite side of the "global warming" issue.
What is the deeper AGENDA.............

My prayers are with you all.

*Read also, "Not by Fire but by Ice"

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 13, 2013

Casey is not credible.

"Casey also has no background in climate science, possessing only an undergraduate degree in physics and math and a master's in management. Since we pointed that out in 2010, Casey has pumped up his biography, adding that he is "one of America's most successful climate change researchers and climate prediction experts," even though he does not appear to have ever published a single peer-reviewed paper on the subject."

karen (not verified)
on Oct 11, 2013

My heart aches for all the farmers and ranchers that have lost livestock. We farm and ranch in Oklahoma, have had our share of losses but nothing like this. We are praying for all of you.

Brian in AB (not verified)
on Oct 11, 2013

Unfathomable. Losing an animal is a lot tougher than losing a "crop" They are more than just money. Stay strong dig deep and recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Carrie in Ohio (not verified)
on Oct 12, 2013

I am so sorry for all the loss you suffered. I had to put my old pony down this summer, but I can't imagine a loss so extreme. My heart goes out to all of you and prayers for the safe return of those still missing :'(

RWL (not verified)
on Oct 13, 2013

I really feel for the SD ranchers, I have been through cattle killing snowstorms and how it takes the spirit out of a rancher to see life's work destroyed in such as short period. I pray they have the courage to pick themselves up and put it behind them. Easy to say, much more difficult to do.

john and pat (not verified)
on Oct 13, 2013

My wife and I just spent 10 days in your great state and saw ranchers moving cattle from the high country to winter pasture. What a sight for us. We stayed in the Rapid city area. Our prayers are with all of you. May God Bless each of you.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 14, 2013

I am deeply saddened for you all who have suffered such a loss! Thank God there were no deaths of people! It will take time to recover but know that if you place your trust in God He will help you!
Speaking from experience in Illinois

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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