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5 Resources For South Dakota Ranchers Hit By October Blizzard

Heather Hamilton Maude

Editor's note: A sixth relief fund has been added to the list. Check back often for more updates.

It’s being called the worst blizzard in our state’s history. The “Atlas” blizzard brought 55 in. of snow and 60-mph winds, which resulted in tens of thousands of cattle killed in western South Dakota and neighboring areas. We continue to hear more reports on this devastating storm that has impacted so many of our friends and colleagues in the beef business.

A few days ago, I blogged about this storm, asking for prayers of support and providing a preliminary report on the cattle death loss.

You can read the post here and offer your own stories and prayers.

One thing I’ve noticed among comments on social media are some that imply that ranchers who sustained cattle losses due to the storm must not have been good caretakers of their livestock. Anyone who has battled Mother Nature knows that she is ultimately in charge, and with cattle still in summer pastures in many cases (this is early October after all), there was little protection from the elements when this early storm blew through the prairie.

As winter approaches, most ranchers will bring their livestock closer to home, where there is more shelter, and feed and water resources are closer. However, there was no time to prepare for the early blast of winter weather that caught many off guard. Additionally, since the weather had been so nice prior to the blizzard, the cattle hadn’t yet developed their winter coats, which left them more vulnerable to the elements.

These ranchers are some of the best in the country, and the loss of these cattle is more than financial; it’s emotional, too. I can’t imagine the heartbreak these folks are feeling right now, and I feel fortunate that my ranch was spared.

With the government shutdown and an expired farm bill, there is no federal safety net for ranchers. There is nobody to report death loss to, and any financial aid that was once available is out of reach for those wrestling with the loss of their cattle. Some are reporting up to 50% loss of their herds. With no help in sight, there are several grassroots efforts to help these ranchers. Here is a list of five resources you should know about.

1. South Dakota Cattle Locator

This Facebook page offers a central location to help connect ranchers who have lost or found cattle after the devastating winter storm dubbed Atlas and return them to their owners.

2. Blizzard Ranch Relief And Aid

This Facebook page is a catch-all for information about the blizzard. Check back daily for updates on the storm’s devastation, as well as new resources for ranchers.

3. Heifers For South Dakota

According to this Facebook page, “This is a group for those who are wanting to pledge a heifer, be it a bred yearling or a replacement-quality weanling for a rancher in South Dakota. Let’s reach out to our neighbors in their time of need. This will be a 501-c-3 not-for-profit group. That status can't be obtained until the government is going again. The focus is on providing breeding stock to family-type ranches whose primary income is from agriculture. All are encouraged to help in any way they can, be that informing potential donors, hauling livestock, coordinating brand and health inspections or donating dollars towards fuel. All livestock are appreciated, but I challenge those giving to give an animal that they would be proud to own, with the focus on quality breeding stock.”


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4. Black Hills Area Community Foundation’s South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund 

The South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund was established on Oct. 8, 2013 by Black Hills Area Community Foundation (BHACF) to provide support and relief assistance to those in the agriculture industry impacted by the blizzard of Oct. 4-7, 2013. The fund will be administered by BHACF in cooperation with the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association for the direct benefit of the livestock producers impacted by this devastating blizzard.

5. Volunteers For SD Ranchers

There are many volunteers willing to help gather, move, sort, and haul livestock. Many have horses and four-wheelers and are willing to travel to the ranchers in need. If you are a rancher who needs help with these tasks, please call 605-274-1407 or 605-274-1408. 

6. AgChat Foundation Offers Support

The AgChat Foundation has a goal of raising $500,000 to help the area ranchers. To donate to this cause or learn more information, click here.

If you have additional information or resources for ranchers who were impacted by this blizzard, leave them in the comments section below.


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