By Carrie Mess
14 October 2013
(theguardian.com) – If you aren't in the agriculture world, you most likely haven't heard about the devastating loss that ranchers in western South Dakota are struggling with after being hit by winter storm Atlas.
For some reason the news stations aren't covering this story. I don't understand why they wouldn't. This story has heartbreak, tragedy and even a convenient tie into the current government shutdown. Isn't that what the news is all about these days?
But the news isn't covering this story. Instead, it is spreading around on social media, and bloggers are writing from their ranches in South Dakota. Bloggers are trying to explain how the horrible happened. And now I am going to join them to tell you the part of the story that I know, and I am going to ask you to help these people, because if you are here reading this, I know you give a crap about these people.
Last weekend western South Dakota and parts of the surrounding states got their butts handed to them by Mother Nature. A blizzard isn't unusual in South Dakota, the cattle are tough and can handle some snow. They have for hundreds of years.
Unlike on our dairy farm in Wisconsin, beef cattle don't live in climate controlled barns. Beef cows and calves spend the majority of their lives out on pasture. They graze the grass in the spring, summer and fall and eat baled hay in the winter.
In winter these cows and calves grow fuzzy jackets that keep them warm and protect them from the snow and cold. The cows and calves live in special pastures in the winter. These pastures are smaller and closer to the ranch, and they have windbreaks for the cows to hide behind. They have worked for cows for hundred of years.
So what's the big deal about this blizzard?
It's not really winter yet.
The cows don't have their warm jackets on. The cows are still out eating grass in the big pastures. Atlas wasn't just a snowstorm, it was the kind of storm that can destroy the ranchers that have been caring for these cattle for hundreds of years.
Last weekend Atlas hit. It started with rain. The rain soaked the cows and chilled them to the bone. Inches and inches of rain fell. The rain made horrible mud. Then the winds started – 80mph winds, hurricane force. When the wind started, the rain changed to snow. A lot of snow. The cows were wet, muddy and they didn't have their winter jackets when the wind and snow came. Wet snow. Heavy snow.
The cows tried to protect themselves. They hid in low spots away from the wind. The low spots where the rain had turned the ground to thick mud. Some got stuck in the mud. Some laid down to get away from the wind, to rest a little, they were tired from trying to get away from the weather when they were already so cold.
The snow came down so heavy and so fast the the low spots that the cattle were laying in filled with snow. Not a few inches of snow, not a foot of snow. Enough snow that the cows and their calves were covered in snow.
The cows and calves suffocated or froze to death.
The caretakers of these cattle had no power to save them. They had to stand by and take the lashings from Mother Nature. They had no options. When it was all over, they went out to discover what they had left.
Can you even imagine what that would feel like? Standing with your hands tied as your life's living, breathing and mooing work is destroyed. I can't imagine, I don't know how I would recover from a loss like that. This wasn't just one or two herds of cows. This wasn't just one or two families that lost animals. This wasn't just a few cows. Tens of thousands of cows are gone. Some ranchers lost their entire herds. All of their cows, gone. [more]