Talking to ranchers in western South Dakota this week was a difficult task. Winter storm Atlas, which blew in unexpectedly last weekend, is already being called one of the worst in South Dakota weather history. And that’s without the true extent of Atlas’ damage even known as yet.
A rancher in Belle Fourche, which is north of Rapid City about 50 miles, told me he was fortunate in that his operation didn’t experience the terrible winds that operators further east of him did. However, his locale did receive 1.8 in. of rain, followed by about 30 in. of snow.
When I spoke to him, he reported that they had been able to get to some of the cows via snowmobile, and he thought the animals would be okay. His biggest concern at that time, with the weather warming, was figuring out how to get the cows out of the timber in order to avoid pine needle abortions.
In the mountains of the Black Hills, a lot of cows were still out, and some areas there got over 5 ft. of wet snow. I heard of several ranchers who lost half their cows, but most (as of Monday morning) hadn’t had the chance to take an inventory, or even find their cows. Read a first-person storm account by Scenic, SD, rancher Heather Hamilton-Maude.
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It will take some time to arrive at an accurate accounting of lost animals and damages but, by all reports, Atlas was one of the most devastating storms to hit South Dakota. Still, you have to love the resilience of ranchers. One commented to me that he would now have enough subsoil moisture to make grass next year and put up a hay crop. He was just hoping that he’d have some cows left to feed!
After seeing people’s lives washed away in the floods in Colorado earlier this year, and hearing the stories of western South Dakota ranchers following this storm, it just reminds one of the awesome power that Mother Nature can yield.
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