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PHOTOS: Storm kills thousands of cattle in South Dakota

by Mike McFeely

The snowstorm that dumped 2-3 feet of snow on western South Dakota is taking a terrible toll on cattle. Some estimates say that 5 to 10 percent of the cattle have been lost, while other estimates are going as high as 20 percent. That's according to a blog written Monday at the www.beefmagazine.com web site.

South Dakota agriculture officials have no official estimates of dead cattle, but the numbers are expected to be stunning.

The web site www.bigballsincowtown.com, based in Faith, S.D., has posted a number of photos of dead cattle in the area. You can see all of them by clicking here , but here are a couple of samples. You get the idea.

On the blog at Beef Magazine's web site, written by Amanda Radke, a Facebook post by a South Dakota rancher is quoted:

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.” 

It is an awful situation. And it's made more awful, according to a story in the Washington Post because Congress' failure to pass a Farm Bill means ranchers won't be able to get federal disaster assistance anytime soon.

Says the Post:

"Ranchers and officials said the losses were aggravated by the fact that a government disaster program to help ranchers recover from livestock losses has expired. Ranchers won’t be able to get federal help until Congress passes a new farm bill, said Perry Plumart, a spokesman for Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D."

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)