We all know how temperamental Mother Nature can be, especially during the transition period from one season to another. What we didn't know, though, was that Mother Nature was colluding with the Republicans and Tea Partiers during the government shutdown.
Earlier this month, a devastating snow storm hit parts of South Dakota. Up to 4 feet of snow fell in some areas, smashing previous records for snow-fall in October.Generally, this wouldn't be too big of an issue. South Dakota does not experience the same chaos that occurs when places with large cities and tons of urbanites have heavy snow-storms. However, there was one huge problem this time - The snow came much sooner than winter.
South Dakota is the nation's 6th leading producer of cattle, averaging 4 million head of cattle per year. During the fall months, many ranchers from places suffering drought conditions, such as Texas, bring their cattle north to South Dakota, increasing their holdings even more.
Typically, fall in South Dakota is perfect for cattle, and ranchers leave their cattle in summer pastures until winter really hits, somewhere in mid-to-late November. Unfortunately, winter decided to visit South Dakota early this year, leading to much devastation.
The storm started with driving rains, soaking the cattle to the bone and muddying pastures. The wind then picked up to resemble an inland hurricane, and with the wind came the snow. Because the snow hit during the fall, neither the cattle nor the ranchers were prepared. The cattle had yet to develop their winter coats to protect themselves from the cold, and the ranchers had not transferred the cattle to winter pastures, where the cows could be protected from the wind and snow by trees and other wind-blocks.
All of these conditions combined led to devastating results. Current estimates place the loss of cattle near 100,000. Most farmers have reported losing anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of their total livestock, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in income per ranch.
This year, the economic loss is even greater. Under the Livestock Indemnity Program, farmers would be able to recover a portion of the market-value of their cattle in a disaster such as this. Due to the government shutdown, however, the farm bill which funds the program has not been renewed, meaning farmers cannot file claims to recoup their financial losses.
The economic toll becomes even greater when one factors in the losses of calves and pregnant cattle. The immense deaths of these two groups means that the cattle industry in South Dakota will be negatively impacted for many more years to come.
The ranchers in South Dakota face more than economic loss, however. These farmers spend the majority of their time every day tending to and caring for these cattle: “They know how dependent these livestock are on them and they’re absolutely emotionally devastated at the losses they’re seeing. It’s been extremely difficult,” stated Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.
Ranchers don't have time to mourn over their losses. South Dakota's state veterinarian, Dustin Oedekoven, urged expediency toward properly disposing of the dead cattle: "That can be a significant source of disease spread, so we want to make sure those carcasses are burned, buried or rendered as quickly as possible."
In order to get this done, many ranchers are going ranch-to-ranch to accomplish the task. Some South Dakotans believe that Washington could learn from the sense of community in South Dakota: "Some of these guys that we were helping today, I don't even know 'em. And they were helping me move my cows and I was helping them move theirs. You can get along. You don't have to sit there like [those] guys in Washington and squabble," stated rancher Todd Collins.
If the government shutdown does not end soon, the price of beef could drastically increase due to the losses in South Dakota. Silvia Christen, however, has some advice as to how to avoid this increase in prices: "Beef prices will depend on how fast we can get cattle to market again. If people want to help, go out and buy a steak tonight."
Advice heeded, Ms. Christen.
Image via YouTube