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. I can’t believe the devastation of this storm- We love South Dakota and it’s people.What happened to the news coverage is a mystery and shameful. Please know that you are in our prayers especially at this time.

  2. Prayers for everyone from Wisconsin. I know how devastating huge amount of snow can be on a community. It breaks my heart for you just thinking about the loss of your herds.

  3. I can only imagine the heartbreak that is being felt. My prayers go out the families that are going through this awful time.

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  5. Pingback: About 75,000 Cattle Died in South Dakota’s October 4th Blizzard | InfoCnxn.com

  6. Pingback: A Record-Setting Blizzard Killed 75,000 Cows and You Might Not Have Even Heard About It ! « Socio-Economics History Blog

  7. Way too early, and way way too much snow. I live in northern Minnesota, so I know winter storms well. And that boggles the mind. My heart goes out.

  8. Will keep everyone in that area in my prayers. Godspeed

  9. I’m a native Montanan, our family going back to the first settlers of this region. I am saddened by the loss of life and know that different ranchers, in this region, in many years passed, have chosen to herd their cattle/sheep in earlier because these freak storms do occur in this region. Back in the 1880’s a storm between Montana and Minnesota did the same damage, with warm rain changing to a blizzard conditions and dropping to 40 below from 40 above within 3 hours. Dozens of children froze to death trying to walk home from their country schools, along with livestock losses. This is a dangerous area to play the odds late in the season or early in the next. Every rancher worth his salt knows this. Our media today is controlled by a very few power brokers, who spend their money on politicians, not weather reports, and it’s time this changed. Condolences to all who suffered through this horrible loss.

  10. So, so very sorry for your loss…all of you. Please accept my family’s heartfelt condolences. We are praying for your future restoration. May God bless you and protect you as you fight through this devastating loss. Much love to you all….

  11. There are few occupations in this life where one can experience such joy, or such tragic loss as that of a farmer. This is heartbreaking on more than one front, I’m so sorry for your losses. Please stay safe and warm, and please don’t let pride keep you from asking for help. God bless you all! I will be praying for you and your livestock.

  12. I am so sorry to read of this devastation. It is sad to know that there has been very little coverage of it. I am ashamed of our television stations. I guess it has to be political , terroristic happenings or Brittany Spears to be news worthy.My sympathies to the people of South Dakota.

  13. Living in Texas, and living through the drought for several years, I understand the devastation and loss you are suffering. Beside the loss of money and genetic breeding stock, most ranchers care for their animals. It hurts the heart as well as the wallet. I pray that you will receive relief from the cold temperatures soon. I pray that ranchers will find more cattle alive than dead. And I pray for a speedy recovery of genetic stock and revenue. Wish we could control some of that weather!

  14. Such a terrible shame. My heart goes out to all impacted by this horrific devastation. It was on our local news tonight, and may have been earlier, hadn’t seen it in a few days. May many warm thoughts and prayers from around the world lift you.

  15. I cannot believe that the national news has completely ignored this! I found out about it from a veterinarian I follow on FB. So sorry to hear of this devastation. The government need to step up and help ! Where can people send donations? So, so sorry…keeping you all in my thoughts!

  16. Our hearts go out to all people and animals affected by this tragedy. I am sorry our government could not step in at this time to help people. They should be ashamed. i am sorry for all of your losses and hardship. God bless you all and help you through this.

  17. I am so sorry for your loss. It is hard to even comprehend. I will keep you in my prayers.

  18. God bless all the families that this terrible blizzard affected. I am sorry for your losses and for the heartbreak I know you are going through. I was raised on a dairy farm in Minnesota and understand the worth and value of each animal, and not just in monetary value. I also appreciate your lifestyle and how difficult this time is for you.

  19. It is almost unfathomable to me, such a huge loss. I am deeply saddened by your losses–so crazy, when most of the country was still in summer weather! I cannot imagine the devastation. My heart is breaking.

  20. FEMA went back to work with storm Karen approaching…..why are areas with heavy winds and rains so much more important than areas of devastating snow falls? My prayers are with each of the ranchers and their families who toil so hard each and every day and are forgotten when it comes to tradgedy such as this. May God bless each of you

  21. Sharing as far & wide as possible~AP~no reply/FOX (who in the midst of all this shutdown screaming did pick it up & gave some coverage /HSUS (received a very nice reply from hsus saying they were working with officials in the area, but as yet no one had asked for help. REALLY?` How many social affairs & skyscrapers & millions do you garner each yr? Someone needs to get off their ass over there & pull up their sleeves & get dirty/ Red Cross ~posted saying they were available in the area. FEMA & Congress are turning a blind eye. We Americans on the East Coast send healing loving thoughts & prayers to those in distress. & HUGS Lots of HUGS.

  22. We are so sorry to hear of your extreme loss at this time we had no idea it was so devastating

  23. God Bless you all. I can’t imagine the pain and loss you feel. I am praying you will get help sooner rather than later This should be on all the news networks America needs to rally ’round the ranchers.

  24. Our prayers and and thoughts are with you. My family is from the Dakotas and I know how beautiful, and how terrifying, the plains can be. What a strange and savage storm. Heart breaking…

  25. This city girl sends all her good wishes and hope that you guys get the help you need. I’m sorry so many of your losses are irreplaceable.

  26. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the affected ranchers. What a terrible blow to an already hard life! Seeing all of their cattle die in such a miserable fashion had to be heart breaking.

  27. Just hearing about this almost 10 days later! What a trial. My heart goes out to all involved. May everyone find strength to clean up and carry on.

  28. I’m sorry for your loss.

  29. Please let us know how we can help. The lack of government and media help is maddening, however not surprising in this day.. If there is someway you see fit for our company to help please let us know we can offer discounts and try to spread the word of what help you need. We aren’t a huge company yet but I am sure we can help in some way. Many prayers and blessings coming your way.

  30. St. Mary of the Lake School in New Buffalo, Michigan , will lift you up in prayer at our Mass on Wednesday. We will pray for all the ranchers and their families as well as all of the lost cattle. Our hearts and prayers go out to all of those affected by this horrific tragedy.

  31. My thoughts and prayers are with you and all those who have lost their lives and animals!

  32. Pingback: Geoengineering? South Dakota ranchers storm leaves up to 100,000 cattle dead | AirCrap.org

  33. Heartbroken and praying for all, in the storm’s destructive path.

  34. As a country girl, I am hurting for your losses. I’m praying for you and yours. These aberrant storms are particularly cruel for farmers and ranchers. May God bless you and hold you!

  35. i am writing from a warm and lovely land, and it is hard to imagine the devastation in which you are all in shock and grief. the work the love the heart you have invested so depleted so instantaneously. i know there are other fields of devastation happening now; india is awash in storms, and my brother was one who’s home survived a devastating hurricane in ny.. there are so many ways to feel loss. i pray that you find the strength in our collective hearts. .that your neighbors and your find the grace to meet each other in this field of sadness and support as exhaustion is only felt truly when we stop supporting each other. prayers and blessings.

  36. I live in Virginia on a tiny 7 acre farm w/ just a few horses as pets. I can not wrap y mind around the devastation of loosing hundreds of animals and the further insult of no media coverage of such a disaster. I am so very sorry for your loss, personal and financial. Prayers for your families. Linda Loving.

  37. My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families in the path of this blizzard. God be with you all.

  38. I am so, so sorry for your loss. May Jesus hold your hand through this difficult recovery.

  39. Thoughts & Prayers coming from Mancheter, UK for all who are suffering, so sorry to hear of your sad loss!!!!

  40. I heart goes out to everyone who has been through this terrible storm. my prayers are coming to you.

  41. Pingback: Pain you can’t even imagine. | The Adventures of Dairy Carrie... I think I Need a Drink!

  42. My family and I live in Wichita, KS. We watched with amazement of our local stations coverage of the early “blizzard,” in Wyoming and later South Dakota. We were basking in temps of 90 degrees and couldn’t imagine having a blizzard that dumped 31inches of snow in early October! My family & friends have many farms & farmers in their heritage. Mostly wheat farmers coming from the Bread Basket of the world. But, my Dad grew up with cattle and horses. I’m a huge animal lover and have many dogs and cats. I have a real soft spot in my heart for all animals and this includes farm animals. My Dad is in skilled nursing care now and while visiting him this past week he informed me of all the loss and destruction in South Dakota. He talked about the huge number of cattle and other farm animals that were dead or dying and how sad it was to know this happened. He understood the magnitude of loss and grieved for the ranchers, farmers, and all their livestock. Horrible way to die. He and his parents lost their entire crop in a tornado and suffered huge losses. My Dad recalled how it was the first time he saw his Dad cry. As we sat their discussing the events of South Dakota we both could feel the anguish of all the people affected by this terrible storm. Our hearts went out to all the animals that perished in the storm. Our heartfelt prayers are with all of you!!! We are all made of hearty stock, here in the Midwest and Plains states. But, we still grieve our losses and rightfully so!

  43. Pingback: GIVE PRAISE TO GOD | Pastor Erich Westphal

  44. I lost my farm through deceit and tragedy 3 years ago. I still grieve over the animals that died and were stolen. They were part of our family; many my children and I helped deliver. I understand your grief and the sudden lose of your lifestyle. My prayers will be with you.

  45. So sorry for your huge losses,,,no one works harder than farmers and ranchers and to lose so much at once is heartbreaking! As any farmer knows,,there are years of plentiful and years of drought,,even the Bible mentions this…but to have one unexpected storm take so much away,,,this should be in the news just like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina,,etc,,as a disaster. But since the Gov’t is trying to do away with farming I’m not surprised…sadly! I am a dog breeder and I just spent $4000.00 to bring in a new puppy import from Germany and the Gov’t slammed all the dog breeders with new APHIS licensing laws..to make sure and end purebred breeding by the honest people. I don’t know where we are headed anymore..they also have not televised the Million Bikers, Million Truckers or the Million Veterans march ,,,what is it going to take…this particular government that promised “transparency” after we felt the last regime let us down? I pray for you and all the families that God will give you the strength to carry on and heal your sorrow. There are websites that predict these large storms in advance and swear they are created by a Gov’t weather system called HAARP and they control these disasters…do I believe it?? Not unfathomable and also sinful if true…May you find peace and rcv our love that we are sending in your darkest hours. Prayers your way,,ignore all of those that do not understand the emotions behind it…and only think you get rich!! You have paid with the “seat of your brows”…God Bless All of you that have been stricken by this disaster!! Lori

  46. I was raised on a farm and I know how the loss of even ONE livestock can affect the lives of those who depend on the land for their livelihood……I am sending prayers your way and hope in this devastation that you will be find resources and strength from far and near to help you begin the long road to healing.

  47. We were without heat, water, and phone for 5 days, and with the government shutdown there was no aid from any quarter, government or charity. It was the neighbors who saved me. I am a disabled senior, and the neighbors brought hot food and water and someone shoveled the 6 feet of snow out of my driveway. Friday morning the rest of the storm hit. The creek was flooding. The fire department and the Mayor of Keystone came to the house and helped me and my dog to safety, and i was put up in a hotel on high ground free of charge. I sincerely thank everyone for their help and for charging my phone and all the little extras. Another storm is due tomorrow night. I wonder when your hamburger hits $6.00/lb if you city folk will think it is just the ranchers being greedy again, or the truckers, or the meat packers…everyone points the finger

  48. I may be a liberal, and I may be an agnostic, but we are ALL Americans. I sympathize with your losses, and wish nothing but the best for all of you in this time of difficulty. Take care.

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