South Dakota ranchers hit hard by severe storm
As the snow melts in western South Dakota, devastation for hundreds of ranchers reveals itself. Dead cattle scattered across the land show a hard hit for the local economy, and heartbreak for those ranch families.
Ranchers like Richard Rausch discovered cattle suffocated by the snow.
"In my lifetime, I've never seen a storm like this," Rausch said.
Richard and his son Jacob estimate upwards of 60 percent of their herd died during the winter storm that ripped through the region. It's a plight hundreds of agriculture producers face as the snow drifts reveal more bad news.
"This area has taken a severe hit," Rausch said. "I have no idea how many thousands of head of livestock are lost."
Meade County Commission Chairman Robert Heidgerken says the scope is enormous.
"We have thousands of cattle dead in Meade County," Heidgerken said.
Arial shots from Monday and Tuesday show animals in melting drifts. Unable to withstand the force of the blizzard, 70 MPH winds pushed the cattle into fences. That trapped them at a standstill.
"Once that happened and they couldn't move anymore, and the snow covered them up and they basically drowned them," Heidgerken said.
Ranchers will have to wait to see just how much this storm took from them.
"It'll be ten days to two weeks before people can get together and start gathering their cattle in bunches so people even know what their loss will be," Rausch said.
However, the initial numbers could bring hardship to these families for year to come, depleting as much as ten percent of South Dakota's cattle population.
"I don't know how you recover from it," Heidgerken said.
"Your whole livelihood's gone. When something like this happens it's like they lost a member of their family."