By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: It’s been a little more than a week since a devastating blizzard swept through South Dakota leaving tens of thousands of cattle dead possibly making it the most costly in the history of the state’s agriculture industry.

Know as winter storm Atlas, such a blizzard isn’t unusual in South Dakota but the speed with which it hit including winds up to 70-miles-per hour struck unexpectedly.

Some sources estimate South Dakota’s livestock industry at several billion dollars with ranchers reporting anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of their herds had been killed. Right now state officials are putting the loss at 10,000 to 20,000 head of livestock.

As reported by Rapid City Journal recently, Steve Schell, a 52-year-old rancher from Caputa, South Dakota estimates he lost half of his herd, hoping that it’s not worse. His story is not unusual.

South Dakota ranks sixth in the country in livestock production, with nearly 4 million head of cattle. Officials say thousands of ranching operations suffered losses from the storm.

Arizona cattle ranchers empathize with such a devastating loss knowing that their livestock is their livelihood. “This blizzard of 2013 is just so very sad,” said Kacie Tomerlin of Arizona Legacy Beef in Humbolt, Arizona and president of Yavapai County Farm Bureau. “No matter what you do, this is not something you can anticipate no matter how much you prepare.”

And while Arizona Agriculture might never face a blizzard and herd loss to this level, the industry understands what extended drought can do to cattle herds over a period of time. As Arizona endures more than a decade of drought, most ranchers here will tell you that over the years they’ve reduced their herds to cope with the dry conditions.

“It is no secret that the cow herd and calf crops are at all-time lows and although we have seen this at other points in history, the market in which we compete today is highly sophisticated,” said Patrick Bray, executive director for the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association in a recent issue of Arizona Agriculture. “The techniques of monitoring changes in the landscape and stewardship dominate the conversations; the industry in the west has focused years on developing new and sound monitoring practices. The University of Arizona Extension has been working with a program called “Reading the Range” for a few years collecting data to monitor trends and to assist producers to make critical decisions in their grazing rotations.”

You Can Contribute

The South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund was established on Oct. 8 by the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association. The Fund is held at the Black Hills Area Community Foundation to provide support and relief assistance to those in agriculture impacted by the blizzard of Oct. 4-7, 2013.

The fund will be administered by these three Associations for the direct benefit of the livestock producers impacted by this devastating blizzard.

To donate to the Rancher Relief Fund, visit and search “Rancher Relief Fund” or click directly on this link. Donors can also mail checks to Black Hills Community Area Foundation at PO Box 231 in Rapid City, SD 57709. Make checks payable to "Rancher Relief Fund."

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