SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Western South Dakota ranchers are reeling from the loss of tens of thousands of cattle in last weekend’s blizzard, and many will dispose of carcasses in pits set to open today.
Rancher Heath Ferguson said the storm killed 96 percent of his herd of 100 black Angus and Limousin cattle, a hit worth about $250,000. He said total losses topped more than 1,000 head, as six other herds were roaming land east of Sturgis.
Up to 4 feet of snow fell in the Black Hills area last weekend. Reports of 20 or more inches of snow were common, and 21 1/2 inches in Rapid City were a record for both a 24-hour period in October and the entire month. At least two deaths were attributed to the storm, and it took a particularly heavy toll on livestock.
Ferguson said the vast majority of ranchers don’t have insurance covering storm-related damage.
“It’s cost-prohibitive for a producer,” he said Sunday. “Unless you’re a really big operator, you can’t afford to pay for the insurance.”
Cattle ranchers dealing with weather-related losses would typically turn to the federal Livestock Indemnity Program, but that farm bill provision has expired and its future is in flux due to congressional gridlock and the continuing federal shutdown.
“We’re an independent, pretty self-sufficient bunch, but we need help,” Ferguson said.
State officials said at least 10,000 to 20,000 head of livestock died, but the estimate will likely rise.
Ranchers who lost cattle will be able to dispose of the carcasses for free at several pits being dug in Pennington County, according to the county’s Emergency Operations Center. The county is coordinating the effort because the U.S. Farm Service Agency is closed during the shutdown.