Blizzard costs South Dakota ranchers

Posted November 4, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Weeks after the Oct. 4 and 5 disaster, the economic impact on ranchers and their families – like the livestock death toll – remains a climbing estimate. Digging out from the two-day blizzard that wreaked havoc on much of western South Dakota and killed more than 25,000 head of cattle, sheep and horses will take much more than snow removal, said Dan Oedekoven, Director of the South Dakota State University West River Ag Center.

“Ranchers have some real financial struggles ahead of them – and it goes beyond the immediate loss of income from calves they no longer have to sell this fall,” Oedekoven said.

Oedekoven explained that most ranchers are part of a family business that is several generations old. With each cow killed in the storm, that rancher not only lost the calf that would have been born in the spring of 2014, the family lost future access to valuable genetics.

Jim Krantz, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist explained further the long-term impact lost genetics will have on western South Dakota ranchers.

“A cow or heifer only has one calf each year, so it takes years and generations to develop genetics,” Krantz said. “Each ranch is unique and may have different genetic needs based on the environment, feed resources and country they live in.”

Adele Harty, SDSU Cow/Calf Field Specialist, said some ranchers lost 700 head, while their neighbor may have only lost 10 cows. Harty said, “We’ll never know the exact numbers because some ranchers aren’t reporting. For some ranchers, this storm took their livelihood. Ranching is what they do, what they love to do and for some, the only work they’ve ever done.”

Harty added that in some cases, the debt livestock producers carry is much more than $100,000. The operating loan, used to cover feed, equipment and the costs of new cows, is expected to be paid off each year with the sale of calves in the fall.

It’s predicted that more than 4,000 sheep and several hundred horses were also lost in the disaster.

“I’ve talked to 15 horse breeders who combined lost 350 horses, and the majority of these were young horses, under two years old,” said Mindy Hubert, SDSU Extension Small Acreage Field Specialist. “That’s over 20 horses per ranch, and I know there are many, many more ranches out there that lost horses. Like cattle, the horses were not ready; they didn’t have their winter coats.”

To learn more about how the storm’s early fall timing made it particularly devastating to all livestock,, and search for the article “Understanding What Happened.”

To donate to the Rancher Relief Fund, visit and link to the Rancher Relief Fund. For assistance or to volunteer, call 211 or 1-877-708-4357 to reach the Volunteers Organized Against Disaster.