Questioning Cattle Deaths in South Dakota

I’ve been reading through blog posts about the aftermath of last weeks winter storm in South Dakota.  I came across a couple of news articles on CNN and NBC News sites.  And then I did something I never, ever should have done.  I scrolled down to the comments section.  Word of advice: Do Not Scroll Down to the Comments Section.  Ever.

It’s not a nice place.  People are very nasty there.  It made me sad and mad and dumbfounded.  There were so many accusations  comments from so many people who very clearly of little to no understanding of ranching or livestock.  But boy oh boy, do they have opinions!

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I am not here to try to change anyone’s mind, this is after all, a free country.  All I’m asking is that you try to base your opinions on facts and not assumptions or rumors.

I’ve reworded some of the most common accusations  comments into questions to try to set a respectful tone and I’ve tried my best to answer them.

Didn’t everyone know this storm was coming?  Shouldn’t they have been more prepared? – The original forecast in the week or so leading up to the storm was for 10-15 inches of snow.  And while it is early for it to snow that much, that isn’t an unusual amount for the area and something that cattle can handle without too much stress.  The forecasted amount of snow was increased, 24-48 hours before it hit, to 18-30 inches.  What actually happened was 2 inches (or more in some areas) of rain, followed by 30+ inches of snow and hurricane force winds.  So, yes they knew a storm was coming and prepared for what they thought they were in for.  They just didn’t know what they were in for.

Why were all the cattle out in the open?  Shouldn’t they have been moved into barns? These cattle are kept out in pastures to graze on grass.  The pastures are very large and often miles away from ranch headquarters.  They are not kept in barns.  There are no barns. There are no barns big enough to hold the numbers of cattle we are talking about.  It would not be economically feasible or practical.  The cattle are built for living outside.  Even if there were barns to put them in, they would not have been safe as the weight of the snow in this storm would have likely collapsed many roofs.

If they are use to being outside during the winter then why was this storm such a big deal? There are a few things that were different about this storm than a typical winter storm.  First, the cattle were all still out on summer pastures.  Typically, cattle are taken to different pastures, or parts of the ranch, during the summer – these are often higher elevations, farther from the ranch headquarters and often more open, with fewer sheltered areas – and then moved at some time in late fall to winter pastures.  Winter pastures are usually  closer to headquarters so the cattle are easier to get to for feeding, doctoring ect.  Winter pastures also tend to have more sheltered areas to offer protection during storms.

Ok, so then why didn’t everyone just move their cattle to winter pastures before the storm hit? One reason is because they truly did not know that the storm would be nearly as severe as it was.  Another is because it is typical to still have cattle on summer pastures at this time of year if the grass is still plentiful.  This keeps the cows and calves happy and saves the grass on the winter ground for, well for, winter.  If cattle are moved too early onto winter pastures they will run out of grass early which means they will need to be fed hay earlier.  Because we never know how long a winter will last and we don’t want to get to March or April and run out of hay – as that is often when big spring snow storms hit – we try to hold out feeding hay as long as there is grass for the cattle to eat.  The weather had been great, the grass was still good out on summer ranges, the forecast was for a significant snow but not for a record breaking blizzard.

And you have to understand that moving them would have taken time.  For instance, on our ranch it takes about 3 days to gather the cattle up from our summer pastures and to get them to the trail leading down to winter ground and then, in good weather, about 2 days to trail them down.  So it takes roughly a week to move cattle from summer ground to winter ground. This isn’t something that you just run out and do in a few hours right before a storm.  You need a significant amount of lead time.  This storm was not forecast to be this severe a week out.

Why not just load them up and truck them all to winter pastures? They would have had to call to schedule trucks, gather the cattle – which could take a day to two or three depending on the size of the ranch – load them on trucks and haul them to new pastures.  There wasn’t time and the weather would have definitely impeded things.  On our ranch if there was an inch or two of rain the trucks simply would not have been able to get to the cattle.

It still seems odd that so many would die? Some other factors that contributed to the death loss are the fact that, because the weather had been so nice, the cattle had not begun to grow their winter coats.  In addition to that there was the rain for several hours in advance of the snow, then the temperature dropped and then the snow and wind started in.  The snow was heavy and wet and there was a lot of it.  The winds were gusting  around 70+ miles an hour.  The cattle began drifting with the wind and some found themselves falling into creek beds where they were buried and suffocated by the snow and wind and some drifted into and were caught in fence lines.

Didn’t the ranchers try to save them? As I said before, they really didn’t know that the storm would be as severe as it was.  By the time that was evident they literally could not get out of their houses until it stopped snowing and then they had to dig their way out.  They got to their cattle as quickly as they could.

Don’t they already get a lot of subsidies and price supports from the government?  There are no subsidies or price supports for livestock.  The Farm Bill – which is currently expired and in limbo – does have price and income supports for some crops – corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice and dairy.  Beef cattle are not in that group.

What does the government shutdown have to do with this? There is a section in the Farm Bill that does set aside some disaster aid for farmers and ranchers for weather related disasters such as this.  This money could, potentially, be used to help some of the ranchers affected by this storm.  We currently don’t know, obviously, since the bill has expired and no one in Washington is working.  Some media outlets have highlighted this since the shutdown is the talk of the town. Most ranchers are too busy cleaning up to give it much thought.

Don’t ranchers get like $1000 a head?  Aren’t they all rich anyway so what’s the big deal? Shouldn’t they be able to handle the economic impact just fine?  Cattle prices have been higher this year, that is true.  Partly due to lower cattle numbers related to the drought that has plagued the west for the past couple of year.  So, while prices are up, ranchers have fewer calves to sell, so that often evens itself out.  This summer calves were bringing around $850-$950 a head and yearlings (these are at least a year old) were bringing around $1500 a head.  So, yes those are very good prices.  But please understand that that is not straight profit.  You have to take out all your expenses which likely include but are not limited to – loan payments, feed, vet supplies, equipment costs, fuel costs, taxes, insurance on buildings and vehicles, insurance on cattle if you can afford it, health insurance on family and employees, wages, groceries, trucking costs.

Most ranchers have to take out an operating loan to get through the year.  They typically ship calves in the fall and that is their one paycheck for the year.  Hopefully, it is enough to pay back their operating loan, replace any equipment that needs replacing and restock a few supplies for next year.  Some years they make some extra money beyond what they need to just keep operating, some years they break even and some years they end up in the hole.

I’m not sure where the idea came from, that most ranchers are sitting on piles of cash but most are not.  Yes, there are a few and many of them made those piles of cash from other things – oil, gas, land sales, “town jobs” – but that is the exception not the rule, most are operating on a thin profit margin and this will have a significant impact.

How long will it take to rebuild their herds? It will probably take 2 to 3 years to replace what they have lost.  For those that had not yet shipped their fall calves they lost this year’s calf, which is this year’s paycheck. They also lost a pregnant cow.  The calf she was carrying would be next year’s paycheck.  And they lost the cow.  So they have essentially lost 3 generations at once.  This will take several years.

Won’t insurance cover this?  They do have insurance right?  You can get insurance for cattle.  Most ranchers don’t because of the thin profit margin.  They can’t really afford it and so they cross their fingers and hope for the best.  Also, for those that are able to buy insurance for their herds, it will not reimburse them for their total loss, only a portion.   For those that have it, it will help for sure.  To my knowledge not many have it, not because they are being irresponsible but because they had to prioritize their expenses and that one was too far down on the list to get covered.

Aren’t they just looking for a handout?  No.  I have not heard any rancher asking for a handout.  I have heard some questioning why this wasn’t in the news more because it will have such a huge impact on their communities.  They just felt it was as newsworthy as Miley’s twerking  and things of that nature.  I think they really just wanted to feel like the rest of the country saw that they were struggling and wished them good luck.

But I bet they will take government money in the end.  I don’t get any government money for my business, why should they?  I don’t know if they will receive disaster aid or not but if it is offered I am sure many will take advantage of it.  Many, if not most, will have no choice but to take any aid offered if they want to continue ranching and even then it won’t cover everything.  Just like when disaster aid is offered after hurricanes or tornadoes or other natural disasters people take it so they can try to get back on their feet, not because they want to stick it to the taxpayer.  I might venture to guess that if your business was struck by a hurricane or tornado there would be disaster relief available and if it was you would likely use it to rebuild….but maybe not. I don’t really know you, so I won’t jump to any conclusions.

But ranching and farming are always risky, they should be used to it, it’s what they signed up for isn’t it?  Very true.  Ranching is risky business and every rancher knows that.  This event, however, was well beyond the typical risk that we all accept.  This was like the difference between a category 1 hurricane and a category 5, it was beyond what anyone could have anticipated. Even so, no one is asking for anyone to feel sorry for them, just some acknowledgment, maybe a little compassion and a prayer or two.

If it’s such a hard business and such a slim profit margin why don’t they just do something else? Think about that thing that you love to do more than anything else.  That thing you dream about doing.  That thing that you just think you might not be able to go on if you couldn’t do it anymore.  That thing that brings you joy and makes you smile just thinking about.  Is it golf? Fishing? Football? Running? Maybe it’s your job? And what about that place you like to go to, that place where you feel most at home?  Most yourself?  The place you always wish you could always be at?  Is it a cabin up north?  Is it the top of ski hill?  On the lake? In the woods?  And then think about your grandparents’ house or maybe even your great grandparents’ house and all the memories that go with it.  Ranching, for these people, is all of that.  All of it.  All of it wrapped up into one thing.  It’s their family, their home, their history and future.  It’s their lifestyle, their hobby and the essence of who they are.  It’s not just a job or a paycheck.  It’s who they are.  It’s what they love.

But they raise these animals for slaughter, so do they really even care about them or is it all about the money?  Ouch!  That one really stings!  Yes, it’s true, beef cattle are raised to be harvested for meat.  Meat that feeds many people.  I know, I know, some of you are going to say things like,  “it’s not healthy anyway”, that’s a debate for another time (and a statement I do not believe to be true).  Many people eat meat and rely on it as their preferred source of protein.  If that’s not you, I’m totally ok with that, that’s your choice, and I in no way want to try to change that about you, but just understand others feel differently.

So yes, we raise these animals to eat.  But that does not mean we don’t care about them.  We work hard to raise them in comfortable, healthy and safe environments.  We respect them and care for them.  We want their lives to be good.  We work hard to make sure they are treated humanely up to and including slaughter.  If you are interested in learning more about that, a good resource is Temple Grandin’s website and writings.

Ranchers care deeply about their livestock.  They do not just see them as dollar signs.  They see them as their life’s work.  And it is hard to see that gone in one fell swoop.

There were many other comments but this post is already so long.  If you are not in the livestock industry and have read this post all the way through to the end, I want to thank you.  I appreciate that you took the time to read it through.  My hope is that maybe you might have a deeper understanding of the events that occurred and the challenges ahead for those most affected. If you have question, please ask them.  Look for reliable sources and ask questions. It’s so easy to get caught up in the web of misinformation out there – especially in the comments section.  There are links at the end of this post for where you can find more information and thoughts from those more directly affected then my family has been.  And to those of you posted positive messages in the comments section, words of encouragement, prayers and good wishes, thank you, thank you very much.

Red Dirt In My Soul

Double H Photography

Just A Ranch Wife

South Dakota Cowgirl

Beef Magazine

The Adventures of Dairy Carrie

Agriculture Proud – this post has a long list of resources and links to other blog posts

There are also two organizations started by ranchers and other community members, in attempt to support those most affected by Atlas Ranchers Relief Fund,  Atlas Blizzard Ranch Relief and Aid.

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532 Responses to Questioning Cattle Deaths in South Dakota

  1. Chris Hunter says:

    Such a sad situation for the animals and for the ranches who lost so much. “City” people could never understand how ranches are handled and are ignorant. It’s not their fault they don’t understand, but it is their fault they make such foolish statements and accusations when they know nothing about it. Consider the source and start rebuilding if you are lucky enough to be able to!

    • Rebekah says:

      Chris – I disagree with your comment on “city people.” I grew up in the city, but attended college for beef and sheep production. I’m now in graduate school for dairy cattle nutrition. City folk sure can understand how ranches are handled – but it is up to us to show them the time, compassion, and blood that goes into creating quality products from well cared for animals. If we don’t reach out, it will only further the divide between consumers and the products in the store!

    • Charlie P. says:

      Chris, there are plenty of city folks who, for obvious reasons, don’t understand how ranches are handled. Why should they, when you really think about it? Plenty of those city people, to the extent we think about it, are grateful for the American rancher, and willing to listen to the whole story. Please paint with a narrower brush. Thanks.

    • msh says:

      This “city” person is country born and bred. Raised on a mountain cattle ranch in Colorado and now I live in an urban jungle. I understand plenty and am far from ignorant. I work to educate my neighbors who were never blessed with the ranching life and am often amazed at how much they really do understand and know. It’s not your fault you don’t know this having never bothered to see beyond the concrete to the hearts of people.

  2. Thank you for addressing this in such a respectful and intelligent manner. As a displaced South Dakotan living in Kansas, it broke my heart so see so much devastation to the place I call home. It is understandable that many people don’t know what goes into ranching, and that most do not know that ranching is a huge part of life in western South Dakota. What is hard to understand is the insensitivity and mean spiritedness that goes along with the comments in the aftermath of a storm of that magnitude. South Dakota is an amazing place but so many people don’t know enough about it (for whatever reason) so it is too easy to make ignorant comments about our ‘little’ state and our people in the grand scheme of things. I applaud you for shedding some light on why the storm was so damaging and why we do need to support the ranching industry. On a side note, it was not just ranchers who have suffered either. From my understanding, every town in nearly a 200 mile radius of Rapid City (rough estimate based of conversations with family since I don’t live there) was affected with what was described as something like a snow tornado. Residents lost power, trees, parks, cars and homes sustained damage. And let’s not forget the livelihood of the cattle ranchers. So again, I thank you for helping put things into perspective as we native South Dakotans attempt to come to grips with what happened. And thank you to all those who are doing something to help those who have suffered losses.

  3. kim says:

    thank you for writing. i’m truly sorry for all the loss and devastation that has affected you and the people you know. i will uphold you all in my prayers. these verses from Habakkuk 3:17-19 instantly came to mind, and i’ll be praying that you find the strength to believe in God’s care and be comforted by them. i’m not saying i could rejoice anyway if i was in your situation, but there are so many of us hurting financially in our country at present, my own family included, we can certainly empathize with you. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.” i pray God’s peace, restoration and sovereign provision for you.

    • Charlie P. says:

      A lot of people made some ugly comments about New Jersey after the shore was devastated by the winter storm. I’m not from New Jersey, and will confess to making more than a few jokes at their expense over the years. It’s what we do as Americans, and most of it is just poking fun, but sometimes it goes too far.

      In the case of New Jersey, it went too far when a bunch of “heartland” politicians in Congress voted against the disaster aid that they needed. Fortunately, there were enough adults in the room who realized that we are all Americans and in it together. If South Dakota needs federal help, this Midwest native who’s lived in Boston and now lives in Seattle, who who’s also been to every state, will enthusiastically support it for the same reason I supported it in other cases.

      Oh, and I took one of my nieces to New Jersey seven years ago on a long car trip. I wound up crashing that vehicle on the highway at 60 miles an hour — thank God, no one was hurt — and I was just floored by the level of caring, compassion, and civility that we experienced after that crash. From the police who came and got us, to the rental car place that opened up on a Sunday afternoon to make sure we’d have a car, to the people in hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops with kind words when we were rattled, people in New Jersey were just fantastic.

      So when that storm wiped out the shoreline of the town we visited, I took it personally, just as I am taking it personally about South Dakota, where I’ve driven through a bunch of times and really liked the people.

      Folks, we Americans have a great thing going. The only way we’ll lose it is if we fail to believe in ourselves and each other, and stop trying to do the right thing even when it’s risky and isn’t easy. All the best to the American ranchers hit so hard there. You have more sympathy than you know.

  4. emma says:

    I ALWAYS make the mistake of reading the comments section. People on those articles have the sole purpose of putting other people down, and kicking them while they’re hurt, so I wouldn’t take it personally.

  5. Chelle says:

    Thank you for addressing the “comments”.. I too have made the mistake of scrolling down and reading the “comments” of many that do not have the first clue about ranching. My families ranch has been in our family for 109 years. They were fortunate to have only received rain during this terrible storm, but would in an instant would be there for their neighbors to lend a helping hand and not second guessing or criticize them. That is the character and value of the folks that are now suffering. Thank you again for setting the record straight for those that will take the time to read your article. Hopefully they will share it with more folks and even though it will not reach everyone it is worth it to change one person’s knowledge. Thank you from a former ranch kid now living in a city.

  6. bearbear434 says:

    SO well written!!! I am from the area but no longer live there. I have many friends that have lost a lot to this storm. These comments are so crazy and it is so clear that people have not clue what the agriculture industry does for them or how it effects them. I appreciate your comments and many thoughts and prayers have gone out in the last two weeks.

  7. Lee says:

    Great response, to there comments, Thank you, I and wish many others will check into the relief funding site to see what help we can offer you and the others,

  8. Here in Ireland last year some farmers lost their sheep due to a heavy snowfall no one saw coming. It was heartbreaking to watch farmers pulling sheep from under feet of snow, frozen, to see grown men crying for their animals suffering. Nature can be cruel, it seems we humans can be equally cruel when it comes to commenting on articles. Thank you for your post and I hope your information will help quash some of the ignorance we humans tend to relish.

  9. Few people today really have a good grip on farming and ranching. I remember hearing such comments years ago when I was growing up on a farm in Iowa. There are few people who have an understanding of the time, and money that it takes to just break even on a farm or ranch these days. In any case, you have done a wonderful job here of addressing some of the most common misconceptions about ranching. Thank you for a most enjoyable post.

  10. Tammi says:

    Thank you so very much for your article. You did a very good job. One thing you needed to add to this is the desaster payment from the government. These people do not know that this comes with a price. We are under one of these loans not because we want to but like you said it is our last place or chance to keep our ranch going. We went throught the drought last year and had no crops to sell in the end. Yes we had insurance but it only covered a portion of the crop. So we had to turn to the FSA Government for help. We have had to jump through alot of hoops and spend money they knew we did not have and they havae their names on everything we own. It is a very scary thing to be dealing with and now they shut down and leave us hanging there with nothing to live on. We can’t even sell anything to pay bills cause its got their name on it. I work outside of the ranch but do not bring in enough to take care of everything. All we can do is hope and pray this will be over and it will all work out ok. These people loosing everything and possibly having to turn to the government for help they will be in my prayers cause they will need it. The government dose not care about anything but how they live and how well they live.

    • Charlie P. says:

      Tammi, the government is us. This city dweller is 1,000% in favor of whatever disaster help South Dakota and ranchers need. I am grateful you are here. Thank you for feeding us and our families so well.

  11. I live in Spearfish, SD and went through that storm. I’ve lived here a long time and this was declared a 50 to 100 year storm. I have a couple pictures on my blog.

    Weather channel said 7-14 inches. It was the heaviest snow I’ve seen. Some commercial buildings collapsed, Power lines went down. Animals in the open didn’t stand a chance.

    • Charlie P says:

      When I was living in the Boston area in the mid-1990s, one Wednesday we had 24 inches of snow. They plowed it all off (amazing) and then on Friday we had another 16 inches. This was in a wealthy metropolitan area of 3.5 million people, so they had the resources to handle it. But the power of Nature was pretty stunning.

      I can only imagine what it was like in your sparsely populated neck of the woods, er, prairie. I’ve driven on U.S. 12 through the Dakotas, and it was just beautiful, especially west of the Missouri. Harsh indeed, but what a place! Everyone there has my best big-city wishes.

  12. Laura Bruland says:

    Great response. Thank you!

  13. Thanks for the post!! nicely written

  14. Pingback: South Dakota Ranchers – a resource post in the wake of winter storm Atlas | Beef and Sweet Tea

  15. Tom Thom says:

    Good job! What you describe is typical of urban ignorance about rural affairs – but I’m sure that the reverse is sometimes true. You do a good job of informing ignorance.

  16. Verl Scheibe says:

    I commend you for such a well written explaination to the uninformed majority of this country. I live in the southern Black Hills and know of several of those ranchers who’s lives will be changed forever due to this catastrophy. Thanks again for helping to educate, and bring understanding to those who share opinions not based on facts or knowledge of the situation.

  17. Kaylee says:

    I cant believe people these days… so dang rude and open their mouths about things they have NO IDEA about.

  18. uribg says:

    Good for you for taking the time to “tell it like it is” in a respectful voice. As a grower (of plants) I know first hand about working according to the weather and dealing with what Mother Nature hands out. It’s not always easy but we do it because we love it. I rarely follow the news but I really appreciate what you’ve said. Thanks for a great post.

  19. kimrauker says:

    This needs to have a “love” button. I always get a sinking feeling from comments under articles.

  20. ptatgelucas says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post and explaining the ramifications of the Atlas storm in such an even-tempered way. You are so right about all the people who voice strong opinions whether they know anything about a situation or not. I hope all my urban friends will read this when I repost it.

  21. Thank you so much for your information. I sincerely hope everyone will read the whole letter. I grew up on a farm and I realize how hard you all have to work for little or no pay. My parents had to sell because of the drought back in the 50’s but it is a wonderful life and the best life for children to grow up in. My sincere sympathy to all those who were affected by this storm. We live close to Wayne Nebraska so feel for all those who lost a lot there also because of the tornado. Hoping all of you can get through this and please accept all the aid that is offered as you deserve every bit of it.

  22. webowers says:

    I was raised on an Iowa cattle farm, so you have my sympathies. I can also completely understand the frustrations with the know-nothings. Cattle are more than just “meat”, and I know that so many folks have to be absolutely sick over this.

  23. Well said, and very deserving of fresh pressing. I was surprised to hear of the (almost unmentioned) cattle deaths and you’ve done an excellent job of explaining the situation to those of us who know cattle only through a hamburg bun. The written comments anywhere on news media sites etc. are what I hope intelligent life forms from other planets will miss when they visit; they are simply unbelievable. Good luck to you going forward after the recent storm.

      • Eagle Creek Orchard says:

        Thank you for taking the time to clear up some of the misconceptions some people have. We are farmers here in Oregon and lost our crop due to early warm temps which caused our fruit trees to break bud followed by a very hard late frost. We lost 98% of the harvest, we did have crop insurance but it only payed 4% of the crop value, which we were grateful for. Some farmer friends of ours suggested we try a “crowd sourcing” campaign and so we did, Indiegogo is the one we chose. It was a huge success, the out pouring of support from all over the country was wonderful, people were thanking us for allowing them to help. You guys should think about doing one also, the support is there and people do want to help. We have to take care of each other, there are a lot of folks who care about farmers/ranchers and want to help you, the hard part is letting them. Best of luck, we feel your loss.

  24. I agree, the ‘Comments Section’ IS a dangerous place. Especially when they can remain anonymous.
    Thank you for explaining many of the facets of ranching. This was a wonderfully written piece, it’s just sad that you had to write it for upsetting reasons.
    Congrats on gettin’ pressed!!

  25. Thank you so much for your well written article /explaining ranching. I grew up in SD and had a ranch/cow/calf operation. Today, I am living in Florida and am angered by the response of the public to the disaster back home. I spent many hours out in snowstorms in the middle of the night trying to keep cattle safe. I brought calves into my house, putting them in the bathtub, living room and in front of the fireplace, trying to keep them alive during a storm. Moving cattle from one pasture to another is not an easy task and not something you can decide to do today and get it done tomorrow. It took time to get the manpower to gather the cattle and move them. I remember having to pull semi’s out of the mud when trying to load cattle out in trucks that sunk in the mud due to the weight. As a rancher, I put my head in my hands and wept when we lost cattle due to disease or storms (winter snow or summer rain). Ranchers are some of the most strong and faithful people that I know. They deserve our respect and support as they deal with the aftermath of this freak storm. As with extreme drought situations, this could end their ability to survive, financially. My prayers are with all those who are suffering with their losses from this storm.

    • Charlie P says:

      Kathy, if you’re looking to be angry, then I can’t stop you, but if you’re looking for reassurance then maybe I can help you.

      To begin with, most people aren’t terribly aware one way or the other, because the affected area is remote from the big cities and very thinly populated. So it’s not as if the whole country is somehow down on the ranchers.

      Secondly, I think you underestimate the reservoir of goodwill toward farmers and ranchers. Once people are made aware of the realities, I think most of them will see the issues clearly and want to help.

      Finally, comment sections need to be taken with a grain of salt, Highly critical comments are easy because they’re anonymous. They’re largely unfiltered, which winds up being very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they’re often rude, but on the other hand, they tend to be literally honest, if at times ignorant.

      I salute the author of this blog for having the fortitude to wade through the hostility and, at some level, understand that people had real questions and doubts, and then address them thoroughly and patiently. In the end, I think everyone’s better off for it.

  26. GaryO says:

    Another reason for the cattle deaths during the storm is something that was not covered in the article. South Dakota had a lot of rain this year, and the grass grew fast and high in the pastures. But quickly growing grass has less nutritive value, and so the cows didn’t take in the energy they would need to withstand the energy loss their bodies would experience in dealing with the cold rain and high winds.

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  28. BolognaFoot says:

    Great post for 2 reasons. 1 – It’s straight to the point without a lot of add’l fluff like many blogs out there. 2 – It’s spot on regarding the amazing ignorance on display in virtually every comment section of an online news article. I’ve long since stopped reading those comments and this blog reinforces that. Very informative and interesting article. Keep up the good work!

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  30. Pingback: Losing Without Warning « On Pasture

  31. Mary MacLeod says:

    Thank you for a great blog and answering all those questions that helped put the disaster into context. This city girl didn’t know a whole lot about farming even though her sister is married to a North Dakota farmer with 5000 acres of wheat. Your blog was a great reminder that our news media falters once again to put a story, a tragedy, like this into perspective for the rest of the nation. I understand now a bit better and am grateful for the folks who choose this life which benefits so many. Without a doubt, farming can be a tough life; hand to mouth for many. But this great and diverse nation couldn’t survive if so many weren’t willing to follow their passion.

  32. I’m not immune to a “way of life”. But sometimes we need to reevaluate the status quo. We need to get back to local farming.

  33. Brenda Even says:

    I am from NW SD. This was emailed to me after I wrote a lengthy letter to my family and some others that don’t understand the full gravity of what happened here. We were to get 2-4 INCHES of snow, and wind only Friday night. It rained all night and the next morning (TH & FRI). It began to snow by 11:30, then the wind came up – HARD! This took out our power. Fortunately we were only out for 36 hours, but 2.5 south and beyond we’re out for almost a week! We had our cows in the summer pasture 3 miles away – cross country. Before it began to snow, it was already too late to get them home, as we couldn’t get to them with all the mud! We sat here and prayed that they would be ok… Fortunately, we only lost one cow – possibly pneumonia. They did stray 2 miles from the pasture. Most likely they followed the wind, and possibly a calf or 2 walked over the snow banks along the fence line – and Mama, going against what she knew to be safe – followed… Instincts… Just like when we go down to bring them home for the winter, all we have to do is rev the engines on the 4 wheelers and HERE THEY COME!! The cows KNOW when it is time….
    Anyhow, I love your article! Many of your answers were similar to mine, and then some.
    We continue to pray for all those affected by the Atlas Storm, Hurricane Sandy, hurricane Katrina, the fire areas in Texas, Colorado, and California, and all the other “disasters” I may have missed. When we watch National News and see this, then we start to pray…

    City girl turned ranch wife!

  34. Pingback: Media Overlooks SD Blizzard - The MSU Exponent

  35. Pingback: North Dakota: The Perfect Storm

  36. kayla says:

    My uncle lives in new underwood their forcast didn’t have that month snow in the report. A lot of the cattle died because they suffocated the rain made them cold the snow and then wind turned the water in their nose to ice. Other cattle died from electrocution from either down powerlines or the lighting in the area that wasn’t predicted. It was a true diaster and because of when the storm hit just before market most cattlemen lost money from their yearly profit that would’ve been the money for their summer bills. It’ll take few yrs to rebuild the herd and thanks to our gov’t disagreements it’ll be that long before they see any relief money. Also the true total of loss will not be known until after the snow melts.

  37. msh says:

    I see many people are taking offense at some comments, perhaps mine. To be clear, my comment is not directed at the article, which is an excellent article, but at the commenter above mine (Chris) who lumps all “city” people together with words of derision. My point was not all city people are ignorant and they were being ignorant themselves by lumping all of the urban dwellers together. Having lived in both rural and urban environments I have learned that there are good people everywhere and good people who care about others despite their locale, and good people who are willing to learn and listen. And there are ignorant people sitting right next to them half the time. What is funny is that when I have lived in the country I was looked down upon by the city folks and when living in the city I have been looked down upon the country folks. It’s downright ridiculous.

    The article is well written and the situation of the ranchers was/is heart breaking for me.

    • prettywork says:

      Hi MSH,
      I understand exactly what you are saying. Since I split my time between the ranch and the twin cities I see this a lot too. Although there are a lot city dwellers that don’t know or understand much about agriculture, it’s not because they aren’t interested or don’t care. Most have really good questions and are really interested in learning more and care a lot about ranchers and farmers and genuinely want them to do well. They just don’t often have an opportunity to learn directly from ranchers or farmers. On the other side, I’ve also heard ranchers make comments about city dwellers that make me shake my head. They often don’t understand exactly what it’s like to live in a city and the challenges that face those that do. We can’t all live in the country and we can’t all live in the city but we all need each other – whether we want to admit it or not. If we would all put our guard down and have some real honest, respectful conversations and really listen to each other we would all learn a lot. There are really wonderful people all over, it just turns out that the not so wonderful ones are usually the loudest. It’s a huge disservice to us all to assume that a few loud, obnoxious people speak for an entire group.

      The tone of the comments that I read on news sites were rude and extremely hurtful but underneath that tone I did recognize that there might be some legitimate questions that people who were unfamiliar with livestock might be wondering, which is why I wrote the post. My hope is that maybe if a few of us start asking and answering questions in a respectful, caring way, with learning as the goal, maybe it will start to catch on and maybe some good things will come of it.

      Thanks for stopping by. Best Wishes

      • Charlie P. says:

        I’ve commented too much in this thread and you’re probably wondering who this guy is who’s fallen in love with his own words, but this topic really struck a chord with me. I’ve been so lucky. I’ve traveled far and wide, to all 50 states and to 25 countries. And I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or three along the way.

        Too many Americans just don’t know how good we’ve got it, and how good we can be. I worry just like everyone else, but there are so many times out there on the American road that my heart just leaps with joy.

        Sometimes I’ve been asked by foreign travelers where they can find “the real America,” and my response has always been that you will find the real America everywhere in America. There are great people in this country wherever you go. All you really have to do is slow down a bit, stop thinking so much about yourself, and really listen.

        In the end, in this world we depend on ourselves and each other, and our faith however we define it. We are all in this together, and we forget that at our great, great peril.

  38. Ed Allen says:

    Cris –
    I want to thank you for writing such a truthful article about the cattle industry and its pitfalls in regards to the disaster in S. Dakota. It would be good if this article would be published in one of the major Ag magazines….but it probably won’t be, because it is too truthful and factual. I am a cattleman and horseman in south central Oklahoma. I and many other ranchers experienced devastating losses and herd liquidation due to the extreme drought we experienced over 3 years in a row. It was hell come visiting. City folks just can’t comprehend it. Several years ago I lost some cattle – registered black angus – to drought conditions and got a check from the government (when we did have a farm bill) for $14.00 a head. Like you stated, there is no subsidy for livestock operations. Some of cattle producers joke around with each other over some early morning hot coffee….One of the boys asked us if we could tell him how to be a millionaire in the cattle business in 3 years, and one old pard said “shucks, son, that’s easy…. you start off with 3 million….in 3 years you’re a millionaire”.

  39. Lisa says:

    I’m going to say something here that will likely not be popular, but I need to say it anyway. First, I totally agree that such horrid comments questioning cattle deaths and ranching were ignorant, wrong and fully deserving of a smackdown, and the blogger did a great and civil and patient job of delivering just that, while giving the ignorant commenters some real information to chew on and mull over.
    HOWEVER. I lost patience with many of the commenters here on this blog article itself who are making the same types of comments regarding “city” and “urban” folks that they get angry are made about ranchers and rural areas. I have lived in both urban and rural areas and am currently living in a rural area, and I have to say that there’s a lot more unwarranted, ignorant animosity regarding urban areas from rural folk than the other way around and the smug sense of superiority gets really irritating after awhile, especially the one hundred variations I hear of the basic idea that “WE are the only “real and true” Americans. There is no ONE “real and true American”, we are ALL Americans, ALL of us, no matter where we live and work. Period. We are all in this together. Urban areas produce and provide much of what is needed in rural areas, as rural areas provide food and other agricultural produce that is needed. It’s a mutual symbiosis that is of mutual benefit to all Americans.
    AND. I hate to say this, but many of the farmers and ranchers I know were very derisive and dismissive regarding other tragic acts of nature resulting in horrendous losses, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The vitriol I heard in many rural areas regarding both of these tragedies, one of which resulted in the loss of nearly three THOUSAND American lives (which is, frankly, more important than the loss of livestock), was truly disgusting and disheartening. And to hear people complaining of the federal aid to Sandy victims, and grumbling about “city folks” while such areas were enduring horrendous losses equivalent to what ranchers have lost (many thousands lost everything they had) and to hear the same kinds of complaints such as “they should have been more prepared” and “they should have seen it coming” coming from the same people who now have either suffered such losses themselves from the Oct. blizzard or are advocating on the behalf of those who suffered losses, is truly disheartening and irritating, not to mention incredibly hypocritical.

    And the fact that our own representative voted against Sandy aid (and likely would have done the same thing in regards to Katrina had she been in office at the time), yet is demanding the same aid for her own area, is quite hypocritical as well. ALL of these tragedies are deserving of aid, we are ALL AMERICANS. Rural areas are not superior to urban areas, and urban areas are not superior to rural areas. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and there are joys and problems in both. Period.

    • Charlie P. says:

      Lisa, I agree with much of what you wrote. There’s enough blatant hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and unwarranted self-superiority to go around, that’s for sure. The idea that anyone is “the true American” is a pile of yesterday’s horse feed, recycled. But there are also great people wherever you go. I think most people tend to get what they came looking for.

  40. DAB says:

    As a native of South Dakota and a son of Dakota Territory Pioneers, I recommend reading the Children’s Blizzard of the 1880s. The embryonic weather service missed that one too. It’s sad to read how few people are still connected to the land, are down right ignorant in fact or what it takes to survive beyond city limit signs, and quite likely have no concept where their food is produced.

  41. Karin Lewis says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write responses to the comments you felt needed additional understanding, I too am surprised at comments that I’ve seen from various articles and not just this subject. I grew up in a 4-H household but I am in no means a livestock expert. However, it broke my heart to think of what the ranchers and cattle had to endure during this awful period of time. Unfortunately, it’s not over for the ranchers and won’t be for some time. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those that had to live through this nightmare!

  42. Bevinne says:

    Reblogged this on The Funky Munkey and commented:
    Very interesting on the Cattle industry.

  43. Sparky Webster says:

    First of all, my heart goes out to all that suffered during this tragic event. I’m so sorry for your losses, both emtionally and financially, and for the cows that suffered – You’re so right about everything you stated in your blog. I read the news everyday, and just heard about this epic catatrophy – by chance, today – December 29! Why hasn’t the news world reported on this? I live in North Florida, and was sitting beside a FEMA guy on an airplane – he was flying out to SD to assist with the cattle burial plans. My chat with him was very brief, shocking, and hours later I’m still reeling from the horror. I would never have known about South Dakota’s heartache if I hadn’t chatted with this guy. Fellow Americans need to stand together and help during times like these, and spread the word to raise awareness of the Atlas Storm.

  44. Air Purifier says:

    Nice post dear. Thanks for sharing it.

  45. Pingback: A quick look back | Pretty Work

  46. Anne says:

    I live on the east side of South Dakota so I understand everything you are saying. I have one question why did all the dead have to be buried and treated like they were contaminated? Couldn’t they have at least used the meat at a rendering plant? It really bothered me that all the meat was just thrown away. Maybe you have a good answer for this. Thanks

    • prettywork says:

      Hi Anne,
      Thanks for asking the question. Some of dead cattle were in fact sent to a rendering plant. However, not all were able to be disposed of in that manner for several reasons.

      First, Animal Industry Board rules require carcasses to be burned, buried to a depth of 4 feet or disposed of by a licensed rendering plant within 36 hours of death. The Governor did extend this deadline but I am not sure by how much or if the deadline was for burial and rendering or just burial. Because of the number of deaths it was just not possible for all to be sent to a rendering plant in a timely manner.

      Second, there is only one rendering plant in South Dakota and it is on the eastern side of the state, making it even harder to get cattle there. And I have read a couple of articles that said that plant and others in the region were at max capacity quickly.

      Third, the weather did warm up after the storm making it extremely muddy and many of the cattle were in remote locations and getting trucks and equipment to them to be loaded and transported to the rendering plant just wasn’t possible, especially in a timely manner.

      Fourth, even though the Governor did extend the time frame for disposal it was important to get the bodies disposed of as quickly as possible to prevent any disease from spreading to the surviving cattle. In many cases it was a better choice to bury the dead rather than taking more time to try to get them to a rending plant.

      I hope that helps to answer your question. You’re right the ideal situation would have been to get all the dead to a rendering plant but conditions were far from ideal in this situation considering the weather conditions and sheer numbers.
      Thanks again for asking.

  47. Betsey Cow says:

    I personally know a family who raise cows. I see how much the cattle run to the family whenever they come home. These animals are loved and well cared for. It is wonderful to watch and interact with the cattle, especially the young calves running and prancing playfully. For my Grandchildren to visit the farm is a wonderful experience. The family is well loved and cared about. They are good, decent, hard working people who raise families and provide a healthy selfless way of life. I am a better person for knowing them.

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