Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Landscape, Language, Teaching, Wildness, Beauty, Imagination

The Blizzard that Never Was – and its Aftermath on Cattle and Ranchers


Calf on my parent's ranch.

Calf encased in snow.

The worst blizzard in recorded history of South Dakota just swept through the state. Tens of thousands of cattle are predicted dead and the much of the state is still without power. The Rapid City Journal reports, “Tens of thousands of cattle lie dead across South Dakota on Monday following a blizzard that could become one of the most costly in the history of the state’s agriculture industry.”

The only reason I know this is because my parent’s ranch, the setting for Meadowlark, lies in the storm’s epicenter. Mom texted me after the storm. “No electricity. Saving power on phone. It’s really, really bad….” She turned on her phone to call me later that day. “There are no words to describe the devastation and loss. Everywhere we look there are dead cattle. I’ve never seen so many dead cattle. Nobody can remember anything like this.” Author of several books and infinite numbers of articles, Mom said, “I can’t imagine writing about this. I’m not going to take photos. These deaths are too gruesome. Nobody wants to see this.”

I searched the national news for more information. Nothing. Not a single report on any of major news sources that I found. Not CNN, not the NY Times, not MSNBC. I thought, Well, it is early and the state remains without power and encased in snow, perhaps tomorrow. So I checked again the next day. Nothing. It has now been four days and no national news coverage.

Andrea J. Cook, Journal Staff

Andrea J. Cook, Journal Staff

Meanwhile, ranchers on the plains have been dealt a crippling blow the likes that has not been experienced in living memory. The Rapid City Journal continues, “Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, said most ranchers she had spoken to were reporting that 20 to 50 percent of their herds had been killed. While South Dakota ranchers are no strangers to blizzards, what made Friday’s storm so damaging was how early it arrived in the season. Christen said cattle hadn’t yet grown their winter coats to insulate them from freezing wind and snow. In addition, Christen said, during the cold months, ranchers tend to move their cattle to pastures that have more trees and gullies to protect them from storms. Because Friday’s storm arrived so early in the year, most ranchers were still grazing their herds on summer pasture, which tend to be more exposed and located farther away from ranch homes.”

Dawn Wink, Wink Cattle. Co.

Cattle at dusk. 

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.

Cattle have a very real money amount that ranchers and their families depend upon. This is also true of acreage and the size of a herd. This why you never, ever ask a rancher, “How big is your ranch?” or “How many cattle do you have?” These are the equivalents of, “So, how about you tell me the amount of money in your bank account?” With these losses, it is up to the rancher to divulge, or not, the number of head lost. It is not polite to ask, again the equivalent of asking, “So, how much money just evaporated from your bank account?” People outside of the ranching world often ask these questions with the best of intentions. They have no idea how these questions are experienced by the rancher. 

People have asked me, “What can we say then?” On this occasion, a heartfelt, “I’m sorry for your loss,” goes a long, long way. 

Here are two excellent pieces, written by local newspapers, on the loss and devastation to the living landscape:

Tens of Thousands of Cattle Killed in Friday’s Blizzard, Ranchers Say The Rapid City Journal

October Blizzard Taking Toll on Livestock, Ranch Radio KBHB

Wink Cattle Co., July 2013

Cattle, Wink Cattle Co., July 2013

To ranch is not a job, it is a life. In Meadowlark, which takes place on my parent’s ranch, the main character, Grace, studies the economic situation of the ranch, “By lamplight, Grace pored over the columns of numbers that represented the ranch. The sound of the pencil against the paper rose from the page and drifted into the corners of the room. She studied rows and numbers, written and erased, then written and erased again…This was all this ranch was to the bank: Expenses and income—the quantities of the former far outnumbering those of the later. 

Nowhere was there space for the things that represented the ranch’s true value. Headings such as Life, Hope, Dreams, and God-It’s-All-We’ve-Got did not exist. Nor was there room for Memories, Legacy, and Blood-and-Sweat. No item reflected the scent of the prairie grass after a summer rain. No place for the times Grace had rocked James and prayed that the land would sustain him through a lifetime. “

The prairie is a place of extremes, where the weather and land always take primacy, because they must. In Meadowlark, Grace writes in her journal, “The beauty. The bitterness. Not a land of mediocrity but of stunning beauty and brute force.”

The prairie experienced a summer of beauty, with rain we hadn’t seen in years. The prairie was lush with grass and cattle fat and glossy in the pastures. Now, we experience the brute force of the prairie, with tens of thousands of cattle dead and ranching families and communities left reeling. All of this death and destruction from The Blizzard that Never Was.

Mom just wrote, “As the days warm, more and more carcasses are exposed. So many have lost so much.”

I invite you to lift prayers and light to the people and animals of this region. When your dad’s a cowboy, this is what we do. When I told Mom there were so many people sending love, she said, “We feel it. It helps.”  

If you’d like to leave your words of encouragement and prayers in the Comments section if this piece, I will make sure they get to those who most need to hear them now.

Prairie landscape in winter.

Prairie landscape in winter.

* * *

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Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores language, landscape, wildness, beauty, and imagination.

1,197 thoughts on “The Blizzard that Never Was – and its Aftermath on Cattle and Ranchers

  1. Praying for everyone that has been hard hit and suffering such tragic loss. God Bless.

  2. I have a friend who lives in S. Dakota. She posted updates of the blizzard from the time it started. The second day into the storm, I posted about my concern for the animals caught in the unexpected storm. I’m not a rancher, but I love animals and know that this is the season that chickens molt, goats and sheep breed for spring kids and that the cattle would still be on the range, I said a prayer and posted the song “Bless the Beasts and the Children”, Unfortunately my good intentions weren’t enough to circumvent this disaster. I am sorry for your family’s loss and the losses of all affected by this.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear of this devastation, and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. It is good that we hear about things like this happening to others.

  4. I am sorry for what you have experienced. The thing about it is your loss today, is a loss for us all because we are all connected with each other. Trust God and know that He has a plan for you and your family. He will see you through.

  5. My prayers go out to the affected ranchers and all who lost livestock. Thank you for this report. I hope you do not mind if I link to it on my own blog. More prayers and maybe a someone who can offer some help might see it if there are more places for it to be seen. At least, that would be my goal in sharing it.

  6. I am very sorry to hear about your loss.

  7. I cannot imagine the enormous loss you all have endured and the devastation to your livelihood. You are in our thoughts and prayers. May God grant you peace!

  8. Thank you for helping get this story out to the public. My daughter lives in Rapid City and I would not have known about it if it wasn’t for her living through it. Prayers from Michigan go out to all of the ranchers and their families. Being a city gal, I can’t even imagine what you’re dealing with except to know it is devastating. God be with you.

  9. I am so very sorry for your loss. You will be in our prayers. I can’t even imagine the grief you are going through after the loss of so much of your livestock.

  10. Pingback: About 75,000 Cattle Died in South Dakota’s October 4th Blizzard | Weird News Daily

  11. I am so sorry! We send up our prayers and may God bless you.

  12. I am so sorry to hear about the devastating losses on your farms because of the early winter snowstorm in your area. I had no idea that this had happened because it was not written up in the newspapers in my area. I hope that the rest of this winter will be kinder to you.

  13. So sad to hear this. My thought’s & prayer’s go out to each and everyone affected by this. We use to raise a few cow’s, just for our own use. So we didn’t have to buy meat at the store. So expensive. After raising the cows I got attached to them. They are like pets. I am surprised we didn’t hear of this on the news’s. But I guess with all the other stuff going on this was put on the back burner.

  14. God Bless you all. My family will keep you in their thoughts and prayers. I know this is a tough time, for you and the animals, I feelso sorry for it all.

  15. I am terribly saddened by this. My heart goes out to all the families for their losses. I have enjoyed working with cattle in the past. They are a big part of your life…your extended family. God bless you all.

  16. I & my family are so sorry for what has happened to all the farmers and ranchers .We live in a small town in Ohio and its a farming area .Cattle ,Dairy,Hogs etc… And our son is involved in 4-H so we know how bad this is for you and your families ! Not only for the loss of your stock but the monetary loss that will be felt for a long time to come ! We send you our heart felt prayers & love ! The Jividen family South Eastern Ohio

  17. Words can never express my sadness and heartache you are enduring. Please know the I am praying for you and your recovery. Having bred horses, I know what it’s like to lose all the years of breeding for those special ones. Continued prayers for you and your terrible loss.

  18. God Bless You All. You Are In My Thoughts And Prayers.

  19. Thank you for drawing attention to this. I had no idea what you all have been dealing with. We heard about the huge snowstorm and then really didn’t hear anything else in the news. All the news ever talks about it the government shutdown. My grandpa was a cattle farmer in southern Iowa – raised black Angus – so I have a soft spot for cattle farmers. I don’t know how the farmers in South Dakota will survive this. They have my prayers.

  20. So very sorry for your loss. Praying for all the families and the animals of this region.

  21. I’ve never ranched, but I have owned horses on small farms. When Hurricane Sandy hit, we were preparing AS the storm made landfall. Some of our horses didn’t get blankets put on because we were caught unprepared. Even our old barn which we’d been working on to insulate, wasn’t ready for the amount of ‘cold’ that hit. Two of our horses became ill with fever but we didn’t loose any of them, so it’s heartbreaking to hear that maybe an entire family’s livelihood just went up in snow. It must of been heartbreaking to know that while you’re hunkered down in your home, that half your herd is outside trying to survive, and knowing that many of them won’t make it to daybreak. But ranchers are a hardy breed. Their a race apart from us city folk. No matter what nature tosses at them, they seem to bounce right back, stronger than ever. So I tell them, whoever you are, don’t give up. Keep that fighting, ranching spirit alive in these hard times ahead and know that you’re in the prayers of thousands. You’re a rancher, not a whimp as a friend of mine would of said, and she said this in the best of intentions and the good of her heart because her family had lost their ranch when Alberta was hit by the ice storm of 1998. They not only lost their cattle, they lost their home, but 2yrs later, they had rebuilt. Never give up, never give in.

    As a child I remember reading a book called the Painted Pony. A little girl and her family had fallen onto good times, and so her father got her a painted pony. However the following year, the rains didn’t come and so the cash crop that they grew (corn) withered and died. They were risking the fact of loosing everything. However this little girl, walked her pony into town and sold her pony for I think it was $100 enough to buy her father the new cash crop seeds for next year. Her father’s words were “these hard times, they never last forever”. And they didn’t. The little girl, although her sacrifice was huge, for the pony had been something she’d ALWAYS wanted, was later given back to her by the store owner as a surprise and a thank you from an entire community.

    Whenever I see this happening to our ranchers, to the people who make sure we are fed, clothed and so on, I remember this story and I hope that some of you have read it and will take comfort in knowing that next year will be better.

  22. I feel deeply for your loss. Lifting all (ranchers, families, animals and any coming to your aid) up in prayer. Will share what has happened. God’s blessings on you all.

  23. Prayers for all the farmers this has affected. The loss is unimaginable. Will continue to share since the news has not covered this tragedy. God bless and stay strong.

  24. I am so sorry! I cannot imagine the devastation you all must feel. It is not just the loss of money and property, but of potential and of living creatures for whom you care deeply. You are in my prayers, I don’t know what else to do. I will make sure I spread the word of what you are going through.

  25. I am so sorry for your lost.

  26. I honestly had no idea! I don’t have tv…or cable…just the internet. Had I not read this story I would never have known. My thoughts and prayers go out to the ranchers and their families. I pray that Washington will stop the bickering and get back to helping those who need it mose.

  27. the Snow came early apparently.

  28. I am so sorry for this surprising experience. May you be safe. Your loss is very great… expanding over time and energy put into your ranch and cattle. Life on the earth puts us in a vulnerable position of watching how nature supports or devastates. May your recovery be quicker than expected and may there be some relief for you and your loss. I send you energy for your emotional recovery which is a great part of this… it’s not all physical loss. Blessings and peace to all.

  29. Seems to me that a rescue and support fund needs setting up? I am in another country, I will donate. I am very sorry for those poor cattle and the farmers and their families. We support you.

  30. How did we not hear of this?! I am so sorry for your loss.

  31. Pingback: The Blizzard that Never Was – and its Aftermath on Cattle and Ranchers | 2012 The Awakening

  32. My deepest sympathies go out to all who have lost their precious animals and livelihood. My heart aches to hear of the deaths of these cows and calves. The eyes of cows have true beauty and are so soulful. I pray that something positive comes to all people and animals who have suffered.

  33. My sympathies for you in this awful tragedy.

  34. Praying for this community of ranchers. So unbelievable that no news of this has been reported nationally! I will share the story to continue prayers….

  35. My heart goes out to all in SD….being from Montana we are used to the media not responding to our Mother Nature tragedies! We also had devastation losses to our crops,etc…July 8, 2013-golfball size hail stones-looked like winter!!! Believe me, I cried when I saw our crops, home, buildings, and garden-all that hard work not to mention the monetary value-we as large business owners carry crop insurance, etc…I remember Memorial Day weekend 1982 snow storm 3-6 feet of snow..we had moved our cattle to the mountains and couldn’t get to them for 3 weeks!! That same storm tore down all power and telephone poles, but left only 5 standing for 10 miles-the poles were intertwined-no one could go anywhere for 5 days-we were without power for 3 weeks and telephone for 6 weeks-neighbors were sharing generators for freezers. We live very rural-our closes neighbor is 2 miles-we understand the devastation SD is experiencing….would nice if the media would recognize and they would receive help…mainly recognition!!!! We are sending lots of prayers….

  36. Praying for you. My family, several generations ago, was from South Dakota. I cannot imagine the amount of pain and shock you must be feeling — (is it even too presumptuous for me to assume those are the feelings you are feeling?) I really have not words — but please know my thoughts are with you all. Miracles do happen, and I pray for one for you all.

  37. May you know that we will tell others of your losses. I am so very very sorry. We will be holding you in prayer.

  38. Prayers and love being sent.

  39. Wow – we had no idea – never heard a word about it till I read these FB posts. The thoughts that cross my mind – is how can we help? There must be something that each of us could do a little bit that would make a big impact! Feel for you neighbors – this is even a lot worse than the fires and flooding in Colorado this year

  40. so sorry this is happening. God bless you is all I can say.

  41. My thoughts and prayers go out to the folks fighting to move forward thru this horrible aftermath. I am in NY and have seen the frightfully slow recovery of some from the hurricanes that tore thru here. Can not send enough good will wishes and prayers. I hadn’t even heard of this storm til one of my friends on facebook posted the story. All I can say is that farmers are a tough breed by necessity so I know they will come together to help each other thru. Good Luck and God Bless!

  42. I’m so sorry for all the losses, how heartbreaking……Prayers for all facing this tragedy…..unimaginable…

  43. Words can not express my heartfelt feelings of loss you ALL must be experiencing ! I am truly sorry you did not have time to get your cattle to cover before the storm. I know they are a commodity to you but you can’t help but start to care about ANY animal that you care for on some level! I hope and pray that you ALL will be able to continue on and recover in some way from this tragedy!

  44. So very sorry to hear of the devastation, you are all in my thoughts and prayers! Wish there was something i could do to help. Feel so helpless in times like this.

  45. My heart goes out to you hard working people who have suffered this loss. The country should back you up 100%. They say only the strong shall survive. It must be meaning you. Keep the faith.

  46. We’ve been so involved in the floods and their aftermath here on the front range in Colorado that this storm went by almost unnoticed by us. I had no idea it was this bad. I am so sorry for the loss of your animals, livelihood, and peace of mind. Ranching is hard enough as it is. I pray for your quick healing and recovery.

  47. You are in our prayers and thoughts here.

  48. I cannot imagine your loss and the emotional toil. I am praying for the grace and mercy of God for every family and every animal.

  49. We are saddened to hear news of this magnitude. Your loss of livestock and the impact it will have on your lives is a heavy blow that we can only try to imagine. We are so sorry that this has happened to you and the animals you work so hard to raise.
    We heard last week that the plains states were expecting snow, perhaps even blizzards, and we were worried that it was too early in the year for such things and then we never heard another word about it. We are equally sorry that such a catastrophe was not reported to the rest of the nation so that we could get busy and send support and help in any way we can. Hopefully that will be rectified and your national neighbors can be of some help, though we cannot bring back your herds or make up for all the lost years of work. We can only come along side you and ask, “What can we do to help you?”
    We noticed in another comment that there was a group taking donations for assistance and we will do that very thing.
    We hope this gets the attention of the nation and apologies from the media who have let all of us down by ignoring this disaster and your needs.
    We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers and we hope you can feel our hugs.
    The Halls.

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