Donations pour in after South Dakota storm kills up to 30,000 cattle

Donations of money and cattle have been rolling in for South Dakota ranchers after a blizzard killed tens of thousands of cattle earlier this month.

It was one of the state’s worst agriculture tragedies.

Dozens of minimum-security prison inmates were aiding the clean-up effort, gathering debris in three towns in the western part of the state hit by record snowfall that felled trees and knocked out power lines.

“This is a very tough time in western South Dakota,” said South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard.

“Many ranchers suffered devastating losses, putting them in an unthinkable position.”

South Dakota state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said 15,000 to 30,000 cattle were estimated to have died in the storm.

Animals suffocated as more than a metre of snow piled up. Others suffered from hypothermia, fell off rocky ledges or were hit by vehicles as they wandered onto roads in the blizzard.

The deaths are expected to result in tens of millions of dollars in lost income for ranchers, who were preparing to sell young calves valued at $800 or more each. Cows pregnant with calves that would have been born in the spring also died.

South Dakota had 3.85 million head of cattle in January, the sixth largest herd in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More than $190,000 has been donated to the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund, said Regina Jahr, executive director of the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, which is administering the aid.

The CHS Foundation, which is the charity arm of farm co-operative CHS Inc., donated $100,000, while $70,000 was pledged online from people across the United States and Canada, Jahr said.

“Ranchers across western South Dakota suffered significant loss of cattle, sheep and other livestock as a result of this storm, the vast majority of which is not covered by insurance or other programs,” CHS Foundation president William Nelson said.

Cattle were spread out over a wide expanse of land, so it could be weeks or months before a final tally of losses is available.

Ranchers were also seeking donations of pregnant cows and heifers of breeding age to help rebuild their herds.

Parts of Colorado and Wyoming saw heavy snowfall during the storms, which also brought more than a dozen tornadoes to Iowa and Nebraska, injuring at least 15 people, damaging homes and knocking down power lines.

Meanwhile, the losses will also affect producers in Canada, said the chair of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association.

Mark Elford said markets are affected any time that many cattle are taken out of the system.

“In the near term, that can raise the price,” he said. “However, in the long term, in my opinion, we’re way down on numbers.”

It will eventually affect feeders and packers, he added.

Elford said the U.S. storm comes after a deadly spring for Saskatchewan producers that went largely unreported.

“In the south and in the west, where ranchers calve on the grass, there was a pile of calves that never made it,” Elford said.

“There was also a lot of cows that died.”

An extra six weeks of winter caused feed shortages and cut into calving, particularly in areas where producers don’t have facilities.

He said losses were seen south of Highway 16 and more acutely south of the Trans-Canada Highway, where producers were less prepared to feed six weeks longer than usual.

“It was dramatic, and nobody wanted to draw attention to it, but there were big issues.”

Elford said some ranchers experienced losses of more than 10 percent.

“You start losing that kind of infrastructure in a sector, that’s not good,” Elford said.

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