Even if we don’t live in South Dakota, a lot of Laura Ingalls Wilder fans feel like a part of hearts do. I know I certainly feel that way and so I felt compelled to share with you a follow up on a news story you might have missed. In October a major blizzard hit South Dakota. That in itself wouldn’t be such a big deal, after all early storms almost always melt quickly and usually you get at least one more bit of warmish weather to deal with the mess before winter closes in for real, so initially I was mostly just struck by the similarity to the October 15th blizzard that kicked off the Long Winter aka the Hard Winter (I always hold my breath around that date anyway wondering if THIS will be the year history repeats). Then the reports started to roll in of the major cattle kill off. I didn’t understand it at first, as I said, normally early storms aren’t that big of deal, even if cut off for a day or two, the snow normally melts quickly and if necessary food can be trucked or if need be dropped in as supplies are normally high in the early fall, and if snow isn’t the first choice for water supply it should at least hold off death by dehydration for a couple of days and normally all the snow is gone again by then. However, in this case a lot of elements came together it was a lot worse than in normally would be.
This was way early for a blizzard (October 4th) and the days before had been in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit. That kind of weather flip happens sometimes, one Ushers Ferry Christmas event I worked we were in the 70s on Saturday and it snowed all day Sunday. In this case, it meant nobody was prepared despite the 24 hour warning of the National Weather Bureau. Cattle still had their summer coats (they get a thicker, heavier coat that grows in during the fall) so they weren’t as protected as they normally were. They were mostly still in summer pastures, instead of the normally more protected winter pasture grounds. The temperature dropped so fast so the ground wasn’t frozen and when cows took shelter in normal places they found instead mud pits held them in and surrounded them with cold water. This was followed by 70 mph winds and in some areas up to three feet of snow. The shock on their systems alone was enough to do in some animals, both cows and calves. This same area has also suffered from drought in recent years and a large wild fire event. Replacement cost is estimated at $2000 per head with costs already pushed high by public hysteria in the wake of the “pink slime” news stories which ended up causing a percentage of meat from each cow to be diverted from the food supply meaning farmers get less profit per cow and have to raise more cows to keep up with the food demand. Even then the replacement cattle will in all likelihood not be as specialized to the area as the animals lost. Such a widespread kill of 7,500 head (which is all likelihood still under-reported as ranchers deal with more immediate tasks than reporting) will hit young ranchers just starting out in their operations especially hard and might drive them out of business. There are fears that an entire generation of ranchers might just disappear.
Read more about this follow up story from National Geographic:
The Iowa Cattlemen’s Foundation is collecting donations from the challenge by the Shelby County Cattlemen’s Association. 100% of dollars donated go to South Dakota. The dollars are coming into the Foundation because it allows individuals an opportunity to count their donations as tax deductible if they’d like.
Mail donations to:
Iowa Cattlemen’s Foundation
2055 Ironwood Ct.
Ames IA 50014 – Mark the donation for South Dakota ranchers.
Sarah S. Uthoff is main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+,LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.