Posted: Oct 8, 2013 10:59 PM by KEVIN WOSTER - KELOLAND NEWS
Updated: Oct 8, 2013 10:59 PM
NEW UNDERWOOD, SD - Ranchers in western South Dakota continue the gruesome job of picking up livestock killed in the recent blizzard.
Early estimates put the death toll on cattle in the tens of thousands.
KELOLAND's Kevin Woster shows the scope of the damage and talks to a rancher counting his losses.
Most days, Box Elder rancher Monty Williams uses his tractor to feed livestock. But these days he's using it to haul cattle killed in the storm.
"A lot of guys were losing everything - cows, calves, you name it," Williams said.
In addition to cleaning up carcasses, ranchers across western South Dakota are rounding up and sorting cattle. The animals mixed with other herds as they drifted miles away in the strong winds and snow.
"We pretty much found what's alive by this time," Williams said. "What's left now is not alive."
The dead are being found in a wide swath of the storm's path, stretching from the Wyoming line east for about 100 miles.
"One rather morbid story was that they could simply find their cattle by following the trail of dead carcasses," Williams said.
An SDSU Extension Beef Specialist, Ken Olson said, "It's devastating. I've had some tearful conversations."
"They're having a hard time. Some of them know that it's going to put them out of business. It's very hard."
Olson says the impacts of the storm are magnified because ranchers had already suffered through a drought that reduced the size of their herds and their bottom line.
But the damage caused by this storm goes far beyond economics. It hurts these ranch families on a deeply personal level.
"It's personal. Yup, it's personal," Williams said.
Williams and other ranchers feel their losses one by one as they pick up the scattered carcasses. Some will be processed for byproducts, others buried or burned.
Williams said, "It's a hard chore. And it's only beginning."
Officials are telling ranchers to carefully document their losses for possible financial assistance.But with most federal offices closed in the government shutdown, it's unclear what help might come, and when.