South Dakota cattlemen still suffering from winter storm


SALEM, Ohio — It’s no secret that livestock producers in South Dakota were hit hard by an early winter storm Oct. 4-5 that killed thousands of cattle.

Now, Citizens for Balanced Use and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association are searching for donations of cattle to help rebuild the herds that were damaged or nearly destroyed during the winter storm. The group Citizens for Balanced Use is hoping for cattle producers to donate pregnant cows in order for the herds to begin rebuilding.

What happened?

A winter storm dumped up to four feet of snow in some parts of South Dakota. Snowdrifts were reported covering fences, and cattle were able to escape pastures and drift away for miles. In Rapid City, S.D., a record 23 inches of snow fell during the storm.

According to Accuweather, the storm soaked the area with rain for 12 hours and then winds up to 60 mph and snow lasted another 48 hours. The cattle literally searched for places to get out of the storm, but many were in the summer pastures and when they did find a place, they sunk in mud and got stuck. Thousands eventually succumbed to the weather because even if they were out of the storm’s direct elements, their winter coats hadn’t grown in and they froze to death.

The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association estimates between 15,000-30,000 cattle have been killed due to the storm. However, the number is expected to climb.

Some individual ranchers reported losses of between 20-40 percent of their herds. The storm killed calves that were due to be sold soon as well as cattle that produce next year’s calves.

Now, state agriculture agencies and ranchers are digging pits to bury the cattle lost during the storm and waiting to hear if a farm bill, if passed anytime soon will have funding to help ranchers with their losses.

Helping out

The Citizens for Balanced Use is working to supply the ranchers in South Dakota with cattle and sheep to ease the loss they suffered. They are searching for pregnant cows that can be donated to the ranchers to help build herds.

South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Sheep Growers Association and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association established the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund with the Black Hills Area Community Foundation to provide support and relief assistance to those in the agriculture industry impacted by the storm. All donations will be given to the ranchers to help them with their needs as they continue to assess the damage.

Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, said the toll on the cattle herds and ranchers is expected to grow because of the lingering effects of such a tragedy.

Christen said many ranchers are still in shock and running on adrenaline so the true effects of what has happened, not only on the livestock but the human toll, is not known yet.

“We are still in shock. We can’t believe this happened,” said Christen.

The one impact that cannot be overlooked will be the long-term economic effects on ranchers and specifically southwest South Dakota where livestock is the leading industry.

Keeping busy

Christen said many ranchers are being kept busy with the livestock that did survive. She said the area has continued to experience cold and winter weather since the winter storm, and it has resulted in secondary infections in cattle and calves. Many calves that did survive lost their mothers in the storm, which meant they have had to be weaned, which has put stress on them and caused pneumonia. She added some have experienced bloating as well, but ranchers are working with them and getting them back in shape.

“Many ranchers have put the calves on grain for a couple of weeks and then they’ll be good to go,” said Christen.

Christen said although the ranchers are dealing with what happened and treating cattle to get them back into shape for winter, she wonders what long-term effects on the ranchers will be once they aren’t so busy with getting the farms ready for winter and dealing with the health issues.

To find out more about donating:

South Dakota Stockgrowers Association: Rancher Relief Fund, P.O. Box 231, Rapid City, S.D., 57709 or

Donations of production stock held two years or more are tax deductible. Citizens for Balanced Use is a 501(c)3 and will provide a tax deductible receipt to owner upon inspection and transfer of stock. Tax deductible cash donations are also accepted at CBU, P.O. Box 606, Gallatin Gateway, Mont., 59730.


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