Tens of Thousands of Cattle Dead Due to Winter Storm Atlas

Dead carcasses lay along US Highways 212 & 34. Courtesy of Kristina Barker, Rapid City Journal

Dead carcasses lay along US Highways 212 & 34. Courtesy of Kristina Barker, Rapid City Journal

A lot of things have changed since I last posted a year ago. For one, I no longer am at Colorado State University as an Animal Science and Equine Science double major, to my heart’s dismay. I am now at Boise State University and studying Psychology with a minor in Biology so I can go on to acquire my masters and doctorate in Neuropsychology. I still have the pup and love of agriculture though, so don’t you fret. No matter how hard psychology will try, there is no way anyone or anything can take the love of cattle and agriculture and the people who make up it’s wonderful world away from me. I swear I am one of the few and the proud who rock my Tony’s on campus. And I wouldn’t ever think of being ashamed of it.


I return, after a long hiatus, to make a post that is not full of excitement. To be quite frank and direct, I wish I didn’t feel the aching in my heart to post in Rancher’s Daughter because that would mean that I could go back to studying for my anatomy and physiology lab quiz that I have tomorrow about human bones. However, this is something I could not simply ignore.

Enter: Winter Storm Atlas. Mother Nature apparently let her wrath go on Western South Dakota these past few days. And I do not say that in a joking or over exaggerate matter. Reports have been coming to light about a very heavy snowfall that came on in lightning speeds. Literally feet of snow was dumped on the Dakota plains and it is going to take an astronomical toll, emotionally, physically, and financially, on the ranchers that make up it’s population. I first read about Atlas in Rapid City Journal’s piece that was published today (October 8th, 2013). My heart ached and then broke into a million pieces. Ten’s of thousands of cattle are dead because of this storm. Tens of thousands. And, that isn’t even close to a final number yet.

It all started Friday night when the wind gusts were recorded up to 70 mph and there was a 12 hour downpour that soaked cattle whose winter coats had yet to grow in yet. Biology hadn’t really planned for a winter storm in the beginning of October, so there is no blame to place on anyone other than Atlas. Once the rain turned into snow, it hammered the landscape. Covering fencing and creating snowdrifts, the feet of snow allowed cattle to just walk over what was once a feeling of security to both rancher and livestock.

See, cattle are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. They might not score high enough to get into grad school per say, but they are damn well in tune with instincts. Cattle walk with wind and they walk and walk and walk. Literally walking until they just cannot anymore. Then they collapse and, in this case, freeze to death. They try to go bunker down in draws or beds of creeks that are dried up because they know those will act as a wind/snow block. However, when 4 feet of snow is dumped down in a 48 hour period, those draws and creek beds fill up pretty fast with snow, water, and worst of all: mud.

See, it took me until my Livestock Practicum class at Colorado State Universtiy to really understand HOW severe mud is on the health of cattle. It is the worst natural occurring “element” (per say) that they have to deal with. Mud, as we all learned when we were two, is dirty and likes to get all over you and then dry on you and stick there. Well, when cattle have their winter coats, it’s a nightmare because mud covers the fur that is used as a blanket in storms like this. However, seeing as this was such an early snowstorm, their long coats were virtually non-existent. Which meant that whatever fur they had, was caked in mud and they essentially had nothing to keep them warm.

Not all the cattle were exposed this harsh reality however. As mentioned above, the cause of death ranges from freezing to exhaustion to drowning.

Dead carcasses line US Highways 34 and 212. Again, I am not over exaggerating here.

One of the best voices in AgVocating is The South Dakota Cowgirl. Hands down. No argument. She rocks. (And so damn good at photography!)

Naturally, I went to her blog when I heard about this because of the fact that she lives in South Dakota. When I read her post about what happened, ‘My Heart Breaks’, my heart literally broke into a million pieces too. She gives such a good perspective about the repercussions from this storm that many of us sometimes fail to see or think about. I am not lying when I say that tears came to my eyes when I read the original article in the Rapid City Journal. But, they were pouring down my cheeks after reading Jenn’s post.

I’m about to let you in on a little secret that all of us who raise or own or work with livestock all share. Be ready, it might knock your socks off:

“Those of us in the livestock industry count on our livestock for more than just a profit or an income. We count on these livestock to be so many things I honestly cannot even put a cap on how many things our animals do for us. They make us laugh when we are angry after fencing all day and hurting because our hands are bloody. They make us think on our toes. Animals, obviously, have minds of their owns and those minds are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. From my experiences, cattle and horses always know when you are in need of a good lesson to learn or when it is time for you to get off your high horse. They give us peace of mind. They show us how to truly love. Deep down to the core, no social media, no outside influences, no annoying parents-in-law, just honest to goodness, bare to the bone, over their dead body, love. And we all need a lesson in that now a days. They keep a lot of traditions going and growing that might have otherwise been lost. It may seem simple to you, but when you go out to the pasture right now and see a cow with the same brand that a different cow a few generations back wore for your grandfather, you feel both proud and close with the ones you wish you’d had more time with. They are everything to us because we are everything to them. Without us, they don’t get fed or taken care of. Without them, we don’t eat or carry on the lifestyle we love so much. It is a simple exchange really. One that both parties know the end to and one that both parties have accepted as both a way of life and as a circle of life. And it really is just that simple.”

-Shelby Bodine, Me.

So given this massive turmoil that ranchers are going to have to deal with, enter: the government.

In a winter storm without a government shutdown stemming from the tantrum of men and women well past the age deemed appropriate for having one, the “clean-up” is fairly simple. Simple, however not emotionally or physically or financially easy on anyone. Ranchers are asked to take very accurate numbers of heads of livestock lost and provide ear tags or photos or anything really as proof of their losses. Usually a farm bill would be enacted that would be prepared to reimburse ranchers of their losses and offer aid of many sorts to help them get their boots back on the right feet and their hats on straight after a blow like this were to come in.

However, since there is no farm bill currently, there is nothing to offer these ranchers aside from prayers. They will be feeling the loss of this for years to come. Even more of a punch in the gut, there is no government in regards to federal agents who are crucial communicators between the United States Department of Agriculture and the ranchers. (Side note, the link won’t be able to provide you with any information on the USDA currently because of said tantrum thrown above. Just calling it like I see it.) That means, ranchers have no one to ask about being reimbursed down the road or what even their next step should be in this situation. They are literally being thrown to the wolves in the sense of they have no resources to look to for funds that are obviously lost at this point.

Just to further the pain, let’s talk numbers we do know. According to BEEF Magazine, it’s being estimated so far that 5-10% of South Dakota’s cattle population has been wiped out. And that is so not even close to the final number. Rancher’s are actively still searching far and wide for their cattle because, as mentioned above, cattle will walk until they can’t anymore. We are talking 5 miles in a snowstorm below freezing here folks. That is comparable to being 500-800 lbs and walking 5 miles while freezing to death in white out conditions. Those five miles are the five miles our grandparents love telling us about when telling us to stop whining, except while being a cow. Some ranchers were on the lucky side and lost one, maybe two head. Others are reporting that half their herd is turning up dead.

This is devastation at it’s finest. With little to no resources left for the American cowboy. All I can ask for is that you send prayers and thoughts their way. They sure could use it. We all have your backs cattlemen, we promise.

I created an entry that contained some photos of the damages. Here is the link to that post that contains all the photos and the link back to the original source. I ask you view them with respect as these are people’s livelihoods and emotional losses. They are graphic, so please be warned. However, I encourage you to stomach them because they are a very real and important situation that is happening to the cattlemen and cattlewomen of South Dakota right now.

That is all for me tonight, guess I’ll hang it up.


5 comments on “Tens of Thousands of Cattle Dead Due to Winter Storm Atlas

  1. […] These images are graphic and contain images of dead cattle. However, in my opinion, they are important to share as they are the damages that the ranchers of this devastating storm are having to face. See my original post about Winter Storm Atlas for more background. […]

  2. […] Shelby Bodine: Tens of Thousands of Cattle Dead Due to Winter Storm Atlas […]

  3. Sadness and prayers from Ohio 😦

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