Tuesday, November 26, 2013

South Dakota Ranchers Need Our Help

Yes, after the catastrophic October 2013 snowstorm,  South Dakota Ranchers still need our help.

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In early October of this year, 2013, South Dakota and its neighboring states were hit with a snow storm of historic proportions. While states were hit, South Dakota caught the full brunt of the the storm.

Four to five feet of snow fell in the Black Hills area during the storm, killing at least 100,000 head of livestock, South Dakota state officials say.

South Dakota was hit the hardest and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association estimates that parts of the state lost at least 5 to 10 percent of its cattle.

Ranchers were encouraged to take carcasses to sites which were built to state Animal Industry Board guidelines.

At one site in western South Dakota more than two 20-foot-deep disposal pits were opened to help ranchers dispose of tens of thousands of livestock carcasses piled up since the early October blizzard decimated herds.

The already saturated by the quickly melting snow, made it difficult for ranchers to traverse the vast terrain to assess losses and tend to stressed but surviving animals.

Behind that epic blizzard another snowstorm slammed into the Black Hills. It did nothing to help the situation, bringing a foot of snow, it only complicate the mess.

Animal Industry Board rules require carcasses to be burned, buried to a depth of 4 feet or disposed of by a licensed rendering plant within 36 hours of death, though South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard had waived the standard time frame, recognizing the difficulty in meeting that deadline.

Ben Kantack, a former South Dakota State University Extension entomologist, said he worries about dead cattle hidden in remote locations, saying they will create public health issues as they decompose.

He said ranchers need to make sure their surviving cattle don’t come into contact with a carcass or drink from water where one is rotting.

Kantack was concerned about water contamination.

The pits were dug specifically to avoid such health problems, as burial sites must be at least 1,000 feet from surface water, floodplains, rivers or private or public drinking water wells.

Burial is also prohibited when the primary subsurface material 20 feet below the bottom of the pit is primarily sand or gravel or when the depth to an aquifer is less than 20 feet from the bottom of the pit.

Ranchers in South Dakota were afraid they may lose everything after the freak storm - killing as many as 100,000 cattle.

Matt Kammerer, a 45-year-old rancher whose family has operated in South Dakota’s Meade County since 1882, told FoxNews.com that he lost 60 cattle in the storm, or one-third of his entire herd.

" ... It’s just dead cow after dead cow, where they’ve gotten caught in dams, streams, fences, you name it. They’re dead everywhere."- Rancher Matt Kammerer

“You’re talking about $120,000 of assets that are just gone,” Kammerer said Friday by phone. “And we still owe the banks, too. It’s like driving a brand-new pickup off a cliff and still having to make payments.”

Kammerer painted a gruesome scene north of Rapid City, where a record 23 inches of snow fell.

“It’s just unreal,” he said. “There are cattle that are 8 or 9 miles away from the pasture they were in, just lying dead. And within that whole stretch, it’s just dead cow after dead cow, where they’ve gotten caught in dams, streams, fences, you name it. They’re dead everywhere.”

Carcasses of mature cows as well as calves were floating downstream local waterways in droves, Kammerer said, stoking fears of a potential outbreak of disease.

“If you don’t get those picked up and buried, you’re looking at the possibility of disease or possibly contamination,” he said. “You’ve got to get them all picked up.”

Most ranchers in the state lost anywhere between 50 to 75 percent of their herds, according to Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, which represents 1,500 ranching operations.

“We’re certainly looking at tens of thousands if not pushing 100,000 at this point,” she said of the dead livestock.

Aside from the economic losses, which will be severe once finally tallied, the unprecedented storm has left an “incredible emotional burden” on the state’s ranchers, Christen said.

“They know how dependent these livestock are on them and they’re absolutely emotionally devastated at the losses they’re seeing,” she said. “It’s been extremely difficult.”

In the days since the storm, Christen said ranchers are now focusing on providing medical care to the animals that did survive.

“That really has to be the priority before we start counting loss,” she said. “They need to make sure they’re safe and that they stay healthy now.”

Gary Cammack, a 60-year-old rancher near Union Center in Meade County, said he lost about 15 percent of his herd, including 70 cows and some calves, which normally sell for $1,000.

A mature cow usually brings in $1,500 or more, he said.

Livestock were initially soaked by 12 hours of rain before 48 consecutive hours or snow and winds up to 60 mph, Cammack said.

Matt Kammerer said his ranch will be able to recover, but he’s more worried about his fellow cattlemen.

“We just had one of the worst droughts ever and now we take a hit like this,” Kammerer said, his voice cracking with emotion.

“It’s just catastrophic. I’m going to be fine; it’s my counterparts … it’s my neighbors, my friends, the people you can’t even look in the face to tell them that you’re sorry.”

So how big was the snowstorm?

The unusually early and enormous snowstorm over that weekend caught South Dakota ranchers and farmers unprepared, killing tens of thousands of cattle and ravaging the state's $7 billion industry — an industry left without assistance because of the federal government shutdown.

Across the state, snow totals averaged 30 inches, with some isolated areas recording almost 5 feet, The Weather Channel reported.
The storm was accompanied by hurricane-force wind gusts, which drove some herds seeking shelter miles from their ranches.

A trail of carcasses left a gruesome sight, said Martha Wierzbicki, emergency management director for Butte County, in the northwestern corner of the state.

"They're in the fence line, laying alongside the roads," Wierzbicki told The Rapid City Journal. "It's really sickening."

Ranchers have no one to ask for help or reimbursement. That's because Congress has yet to pass a new farm bill, which subsidizes agricultural producers.

State Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch called the early-season blizzard "devastating to our producers," saying his agency was trying to figure out a response.

In the meantime, he said, the best farmers and ranchers could do was to meticulously document their losses, with detailed photos, for use when and if claims can be processed.

The most immediate concern was the proper disposal of the dead livestock, which state law says must be burned, buried or rendered within 36 hours — for the health not only of surviving herds but also for people.

"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," Dustin Oedekoven, South Dakota's state veterinarian, told the Journal.

But the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association warned that the effects would be felt for years afterward. Not only were tens of thousands of calves killed, but so were thousands more cows that would have delivered calves next year.

And the stress of the storm will leave its mark on surviving herds, the South Dakota State University Agricultural Extension Service said, leaving the remaining cattle vulnerable to ruinous diseases with names like infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, bovine respiratory syncytial virus and bovine viral diarrhea virus.

UPDATE:

Ranchers donate cattle after South Dakota blizzard kills livestock

November 25th, 2013
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One to start a new herd. This one from Russ Allderdice runs onto the J S Livestock yard in Havre, Montana.

Russ Allderdice and other area ranchers brought cattle to the stockyard throughout the day to send to the South Dakota ranchers whose cattle was ravaged by the October blizzard.

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Nov. 21, 2013: Rene Brown locks up a cattle delivery at the J S Livestock yard in Havre, Montana. Brown collected cattle donations from area ranchers to send to the South Dakota Ranchers whose cattle was ravaged by the October blizzard. (AP/Havre Daily News, Lindsay Brown)

Hope on hooves is arriving in South Dakota, one heifer at a time.

A month after the freak snow storm dumped 4 to 5 feet of snow on South Dakota, 45 donated head of cattle from Montana designed to serve as breeding stock were sent to ranchers in The Mount Rushmore State.

Another 400 cattle, including yearling and bred heifers worth as much as $75,000, have also been sent to South Dakota from neighboring Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota to help the afflicted ranchers get back on their feet ahead of the looming harsh winter.

“The support from other states has been phenomenal,” Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, told FoxNews.com early Monday, November 25th.

“We have volunteers from in the state who have helped with cleanup, we have people from surrounding states who shipped heifers and about $1.5 million has been donated to the Rancher Relief Fund.”

Christen estimated in the days after the storm that as many as 100,000 cattle would ultimately die as a result of the “devastating” storm, although state officials have said the blizzard killed roughly 14,000 cattle, more than 1,200 sheep, nearly 300 horses and 40 bison.

She still expects that number to “go up quite a bit” in coming weeks.

Part of the problem, Christen said, is that state officials have relied on self-reporting from ranchers, some of whom may be dealing with the guilt of not suffering widespread losses like their counterparts.

“They’re a very private, self-sufficient group,” Christen said of ranchers.

“The emotional flow of this whole thing has been incredible. These ranchers define themselves as caretakers of their animals and many of them feel they have failed in their role.”

Christen continued: “Many of them say, ‘Well, our neighbors had it worse,’ and some of them haven’t reported those losses due to survivor’s guilt. Many of these ranchers won’t be able to financially survive this. There’s an incredible amount of guilt among those who are going to survive. Many of them wish they can do more for others.”

Two people desperate to make a difference were Montana ranchers Rene Brown and Alisha Burcham, who began gathering cattle donations from northern Montana through Heifers for South Dakota.

The organization selected family ranches that had herds of roughly 160 cattle but lost up to 60 percent of them in the storm.

“Twelve hours this way with that storm and that could have been us,” Brown told The Associated Press.

Brown, a rancher near Chinook, Mont., could not be reached for comment early Monday. Her brother-in-law, Earl Brown, started moving the donated cattle on Friday.

“I told him I wanted to get a pot load of cattle together to send to South Dakota,” she continued.

“He told me I couldn’t do it and that if I did, he would drive them there. Well, we did and even have donations for the fuel, so he’s donating his time for the drive.”

Many small producers in South Dakota did not have insurance due to high costs, she said.

“Congress may approve some disaster aid, but that’s not a sure thing and they can’t even pass a farm bill,” Brown said.

But frankly, these people don't wait for Congress.

“This donation will make a big difference to ranchers in South Dakota. I knew the Hi-Line would come through, but it is humbling to see this come together.”

The South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund was established by a consortium of livestock organizations following the blizzard and has thus far raised $1.5 million, Christen said.

An application deadline of Dec. 31 has been set in order to assess the number of applicants and the severity of those applicants’ needs.

“The outpouring of support for the West River ranchers who lost animals during the blizzard has been overwhelming,” South Dakota cattleman Cory Eich said in a statement.

As more winter comes, Christen said colder conditions have helped the cleanup effort by drying up large mud patches created by melted snow and water runoff.

“The snow has melted and we’ve had some new snowfall, but there’s not a lot on the ground,” she said. “The ground is freezing though, which is actually helping things because it’s easier to move around these ranches and get to remote areas.”

And while the long-term financial outlook looks dicey for some ranchers, especially young breeders, Christen said livestock producers in South Dakota have plenty to be thankful for ahead of the holiday season.

“It has been incredible to see the kind of support we have gotten,” Christen told FoxNews.com. “It’s really kind of beyond words. It’s been very humbling.”

American farmers and ranchers are some of the toughest people on the face of the earth. They endure when others fail, and they don't ask help from anyone.

These great Americans who feed us and the world need our help.

If you would like to contribute to the The South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund, please do so by clicking on the links below and give what you can to help those who really need our help.

At this time, let's be the ones who showed what we are made of and help our neighbors in South Dakota!    

If one link doesn't work, please try the other.

BHACF/SD Rancher Relief Fund  

Ranchers Relief Fund   

Thank you, and God Bless you!

Tom Correa
Editor
American Cowboy Chronicles



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