Ranchers hit hard by blizzard out in the cold

Dead cattle lie along a rural road near Crawford, Neb. (Fred Knapp/NET News)
Dead cattle lie along a rural road near Crawford, Neb. (Fred Knapp/NET News)

Ranchers coping with a devastating early-season blizzard may have to wait for disaster aid, if they receive any at all, thanks to the government shutdown and the absence of a working farm bill.

Thousands of cattle were killed by last week’s snowstorm in Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota. But the government may not be able to help.

There is no farm bill with money dedicated for disaster assistance for livestock producers. And with the government shut down, ranchers have no one to ask for reimbursement for the expensive storm cleanup.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota called on friends and neighbors to help ranchers pummeled by the blizzard. And that may be their best shot.

Reporter Fred Knapp from our partner NET News has spent the last couple of days reporting from Chadron, Neb. Though recent moderate temperatures have melted the snow, people are still cleaning up piles of downed trees, coping without electricity and counting the cattle that managed to survive the storm.

Knapp spoke with Shelly Thompson, who farms with her husband north of Whitney, Neb., and spent the last week helping neighbors who lost cattle to the storm.

“Most people visualize a rancher or farmer as (a) big, tough man,” Thompson told Knapp. “You know, I’ve seen a lot of producers cry over the last week. The animals that they love, and that they have passion for, were taken like this.”

A huge blizzard like the storm that dumped up to four feet of snow in some areas of Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota is unusual so early in the fall.  

“The animals don’t have their winter coat on yet,” Thompson told Knapp. “They’re still out on grass – they’re not up home in good shelter.”

The official count of cattle lost in the storm in Dawes and Sioux Counties in Nebraska stood at 1,060, according to Knapp’s reporting. Some reports say ranchers in South Dakota expect losses in the tens of thousands.

One of the worst images from Knapp’s reporting: he spoke with Jeff Wallin, a driver for Southwest Hide Co., as he stopped at a gas station with his truck full of dead cattle carcasses.

“I started this morning at 8 and picked up close to 80 head already,” Wallin told Knapp. “And another guy picked up 50. And they picked up from one rancher – 300 head of cattle. And there’s thousands of them up here that are dead.”


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