South Dakota on my heart

When was the last time a news story that wasn’t even in your local area or involving anyone you know personally got the back of your eyeballs stinging, on the verge of leaking? For me, that was last week. It was this. And this. Tens of thousands of cattle trapped and killed by a sudden, unexpected, brutal blizzard. Hundreds of family ranches, reporting losses of 20-50% of their herds. I feel like in the wake of devastating accounts like this, everyone processes the information differently. I was working in Denver, away from the ranch and my family. All I wanted to do was be home, with my family, and our animals. Both my husband and I have separately experienced a time when our family operations suddenly lost dozens of cattle, in our cases from disease (not weather), abruptly, which is bad enough. Then, the necessary task of disposal must be undertaken. This is the sole responsibility of the rancher.  I don’t think I need to describe details to help anyone understand this lonely, depressing, awful task.

One of the least disturbing images from the storm.

One of the least disturbing images from the storm.

Some losses experienced in a catastrophic event like this are both emotional and monetary. This South Dakota native blogger summarized the loss that may be invisible to people who are unfamiliar with how cattle are raised:

“In addition to the financial loss, when a rancher loses an animal, it is a loss of years, decades, and often generations within families, of building the genetics of a herd. Each rancher’s herd is as individual and unique as a fingerprint. It is not a simple as going out to buy another cow. Each cow in a herd is the result of years of careful breeding, in the hopes of creating a herd reflective of market desirability, as well as professional tastes of the rancher. Cattle deaths of this magnitude for ranchers is the equivalent of an investment banker’s entire portfolio suddenly gone. In an instant, the decades of investment forever disappear.  It is to start over again, to rebuild, over years and years.”

Sometimes I feel like the national media and both-coastal peeps treat the Heartland, not like a vital organ, but a spleen or the kind of body part you could lose if it was damaged in a car crash, and be just fine. In fact, to-date there has been almost no national news coverage of the blizzard and resulting cattle losses. Seriously, google it. Finally some coverage today, a full week later. Sadly, I feel like people need to be exposed to these accounts of despair, helplessness and loss because it illustrates how real, family-run, and vulnerable our farms and ranches are – today as much or more as they were decades ago. This doesn’t align with dozens of messages about farming and ranching today that seem to dominate the media and conversations about food. That might be why I take things like the Chipotle marketing ploys so personal. And take exception to the notion that if there isn’t a special label or marketing campaign on a product, it must have come from a “factory farm”. When incidents like this go under-reported to the millions of eaters in this country, all hundreds of miles away from South Dakota, it just serves to remove people from the source of the food they eat more and more. This isn’t good for farmers, or eaters!

looking for cattle

Ranchers out looking for their cattle after the storm. To be eligible for official relief funds (that may or may not become available), ranchers must fastidiously document their losses.

As I emerge from the first stages of reaction, feeling emotionally upset over the cattle losses and for the ranchers, and reminded of our own vulnerability here on our ranch, I’m now focused on two ways to move from helpless to helpful. That is, in no particular order, share the story, and participate in relief efforts. Share a link. Share this post. Share in whatever way you want, just don’t take part in ignoring it. Second, if it’s on your heart, give. Click the logo below to donate to the fund that will directly benefit individual ranchers who have suffered huge losses from the storm.

This is a great way to support family farmers and ranchers, right when they need it the most.

This is a great way to support family farmers and ranchers, right when they need it the most.


3 thoughts on “South Dakota on my heart

  1. Thank you so much for this awesome article! Your blog is great and I have enjoyed reading it. If you get a chance check mine out at We are a ranch family from SD that just bought a ranch in MT and made the move with our kids to a very remote mountain ranch…in the mid of winter! Crazy right?! We are heading to Spokane Washington tomorrow to visit my Sister in law who moved about 2 months ago!
    Merry Christmas!


    • Thank you for reading Justine! That is one adventurous move…sounds like an incredible place to live though! Hope you enjoyed Spokane. We are about 80 miles west. I make it to town from time to time, but not more than I need to. How/where do you go food shopping from your new ranch?

  2. Pingback: The Carlton Complex fire: a rancher chooses gratitude | ranch wife life

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