Many ranchers lost over half their herds when the storm dumped up to four feet of snow in the Black Hills. The unexpected storm devastated thousands of farmers who depend on the cattle as a source of income.
The storm began with heavy rain. As temperatures dropped, it quickly developed into a destructive blizzard. As reported by USA Today, the storm has passed. However, the ranchers are now tasked with finding their cattle and assessing the damage.
A majority of the cattle were grazing when the storms hit. Many were washed away in flood waters before the snow even started. Others became stuck in the mud. When the blizzard began, the cattle were unable to find shelter. Thousands of South Dakota cattle froze to death as they were buried under several feet of snow.
As reported by Fox News, the dead cattle are everywhere. Ranch owner Matt Kammerer describes the heartbreaking scene:
"There are cattle that are 8 or 9 miles away from the pasture... just lying dead... it's just dead cow after dead cow... They're dead everywhere."Kammerer said local waterways are clogged with carcasses, bringing the possibility of disease and contamination. The cleanup has begun, However, it is not an easy task. The carcasses cannot be moved by hand, and machinery is in high demand.
Pennington County officials are assisting in the clean-up. They have provided pits where ranchers can safely dispose of the carcasses. Ranchers are asked to document their losses with photos and vaccination records.
Although many ranchers do not have insurance covering natural disasters, they may get relief from a proposed farm bill. If passed by congress, the Livestock Indemnity Program would provide some relief.
Meanwhile, the Stockgrowers Association, the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association, are accepting donations for the struggling ranchers.
The South Dakota cattle deaths are heartbreaking and financially devastating. Unfortunately the area is expected to see more heavy rain this weekend.