Thinking of you South Dakota

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Thinking of you South Dakota

Posted by in Blog, calves, love, Montana

For those in ranching, there are several things that can keep you awake at night with worry. What if cattle prices drop or corn prices continue to skyrocket? How are we going to pay our taxes this year or the fuel bill this month? Can we hold off on paying the vet bill so that we can pay the kids’ doctor bills? The single most devastating thing to happen to a rancher, other that the loss of a family member, is the death of his stock. This life presents an interesting perspective on death and loss. Ranchers face death and loss on an almost daily basis. Not that we lose an animal everyday, but the risk is always there. Ranch kids learn the hard lesson early on – barn kittens they played with and loved get killed by raccoons, Dad ran over the dog with the tractor, the chickens were wiped out by a bear (or the same damn raccoons), and so on. Most of these losses are met with some tears but slowly, ranch kids learn that animal loss is just part of this life. Fortunately, ranch life goes on in a hurry. Calves are born in the spring, most make a spectacularly uneventful entrance into the world and grow to feed the world. Some, despite every effort made by the rancher, just aren’t meant to make it. These calf losses weigh on the rancher both from a checkbook standpoint (income per calf lost) and from a responsibility standpoint (what could I have done to prevent that from happening), but life continues. (It’s worth noting that while we expect loss during calving, the higher the loss count, the higher the stress level, and in ranching is a lot of pride wrapped up in keeping your stock healthy so often ranchers don’t discuss how many calves they have lost.)

It’s with a heavy heart that I read about the devastating loss of livestock in South Dakota, Wyoming and surrounding areas. Thousands of animals succumbed to hypothermia after freezing rain followed by 2-3 feet of snow and unforgiving wind, some suffocated in the snow as they pressed together to escape the weather. Our own cattle are still on summer pasture and tolerate the elements well with the grass still in the pastures, and because of this we will not starting supplementing their feed for a few months still. Their coats are still relatively thin compared to the thick winter coats they develop as the temperatures slowly drop heading into winter. Unfortunately for those affected by the blizzards, their animals were in the same condition. Caught of guard by a freak early fall storm, there is nothing more those ranchers could have done to protect those animals. It could have just as easily been Montana. It could have just as easily been our animals, our place.

Estimates as high as 60,000 cattle have been lost due to the deadly blizzard last week. To put into perspective, let’s assume each cow lost was worth $1000 (very low ball number), that’s $60,000,000 that ranchers lost. This time of year, we are preparing our calves to be sold (by weight) and shipped to their next owner, many of the calves in the blizzard effected areas were lost or will lose significant weight, another devastating blow to the rancher. For most ranchers, this is their one and only paycheck per year. What about insurance? Honestly, most ranchers are happy to be able to afford health insurance for their children and auto insurance on their vehicles, not to mention all the other insurances required for a self-employed property owner.  What about government assistance? The United States government, along with the major news networks, have not even acknowledged the losses, and that is disgraceful. These people that have lost their livelihoods are victims of mother nature, the same as anyone who loses their property to Mother Nature. They did not ask for this, they do not deserve, and they did not choose it. To assume or suggest otherwise is cruel and cowardly.

While these animals are bred to eventually be consumed, a rancher’s responsibility is to make their relatively short lives as healthy and productive as possible. It is in the rancher’s best interest to make sure each animal has optimal feed, water and supplements everyday to ensure growth, maintenance, and protection from disease. Making sure a cow has enough feed in front of her in the winter to sustain her in the frigid temperatures and support the growth of her unborn calf is literally a daily investment, both financially and in sweat equity from the rancher (you don’t even want to run the numbers to see what most ranchers make per day or per cow, trust me). This investment can span generations and always includes sacrifices, but a rancher loves his “job” in few people in American culture can grasp. This is not a 9-5 that keeps disenchanted employees dangling along because of the benefits, like a sparkly 401K or PTO. Most ranchers can’t fathom getting paid for being on vacation (I, on the other hand, remember PTO and miss it dearly). Ranching is a lifestyle, a tradition, a honor and a risk, and one of the most unappreciated careers in society. God bless the victims of this sad event. God bless the American Rancher.

Please check out The South Dakota Cowgirl for ways you can help.

6 thoughts on “Thinking of you South Dakota

  1. Your words really bring home the devastation and incredible loss these ranchers are experiencing. Having grown up on a farm in southern MN, I know how farmers and ranchers operate with no guarantees. They are at the mercy of all kinds of weather and unpredictable events. But this one really hits us hard.

    Thank you for taking the time to capture this so eloquently.


  2. Amazing isn’t it? The lack of national coverage on such a tragedy….is a shame. We in agriculture need to rally for all kinds of support for one another… tradition has proven that private sector can be amazingly resourceful…while much of government is bogged down in their ego.

  3. Thank you for sharing this story. I haven’t heard anything on national news of this and that is shameful. My son in law farms and the ebb and flow of planting and harvesting and everything that happens between those two events can make or break a farmer. Your writing about the loss of cattle, the dedication of the ranchers, the lessons all children sounds like our life here and should be shared. Keep up the good writing and my prayers are with those who have loss much in the blizzards.

      1. Yes. Please share comments anytime.
        I am going to be in MT the whole month of November. Would love to meet you.

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