Last week a severe winter storm, Atlas, hit hard out west. It hit eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota especially hard. In my last post I said “it wasn’t like the blizzard of ’49”. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
What I didn’t know at the time was that, while it brought our crew some sleepless nights, extra worry and a lot of extra work, it brought our neighbors to the east along the Wyoming, South Dakota border and throughout western South Dakota, a tremendous amount of loss.
While the country has been pre-occupied with the circus that is Washington DC, ranchers began digging out and what they found was, for many, devastating. The Rapid City Journal is reporting tens of thousands of dead cattle across South Dakota…..tens of thousands. Reuters is reporting current estimates of 60,000. It’s also reporting that aid will be slow because the program that would allow ranchers to apply for disaster aid (which may reimburse them for only a portion of their loss) is part of the 2008 Farm Bill which expired on Oct 1st and we all know how much Congress is getting done at the moment.
Because the storm was so early in the season the cattle had not grown their winter coats yet and all were out on open range and had not been brought onto winter feed grounds yet. It rained for several hours first, thoroughly soaking the animals before it began snowing and the winds kicked up in the neighborhood of 70 miles an hour. And snow it did, reports of up to 4 feet in places. The cattle drifted with the winds and snow looking for shelter. Some were caught in fence lines, some huddled together and were buried in and suffocated by snow. There are reports of individual ranchers losing 20-50% of their herds. To come upon a scene like those below and see your livestock, your livelihood gone in one fell swoop, is heartbreaking. Ranchers are made of hardy stock to be sure but this….this is really, really hard.
I’m working on gathering some photos and stories to tell about what how Atlas affected our ranch but we were very lucky. We haven’t found all our cattle yet but we haven’t come across anything like this. We just wanted our neighbors to the east to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them.