Shutdown masks losses from early October blizzard

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tens of thousands of lives were lost in early October, but we bet you didn't hear much about it, thanks to the closed-down government and standoff over the national debt limit.

Figures just came in confirming more than 2,200 cattle in Nebraska and tens of thousands in western South Dakota were killed after a record 19 inches of snow was dumped on Rapid City on Friday, Oct. 4, and other areas got enough snow to make snow drifts 5 feet deep.

The week before the blizzard, temperatures were above 80 degrees -- and cattle had not yet grown their thick winter coats of hair.

Winds of 70 mph accompanied the blizzard, and many of the cattle died of hypothermia or were suffocated under the snowdrifts.

To make it worse, whatever help the government could have provided was not on its way, thanks to the shutdown.

The loss was especially felt in the Chadron, Nebraska, area, where the cattle population in Sioux and Dawes counties was already less than 45 percent of its normal number, thanks to wildfires that damaged more than 900 miles of fenceline.

The direct economic impact of the cattle losses in South Dakota could be a half billion dollars, and the indirect effects could reach $1.7 billion, Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers told the Rapid City Council Monday night.

A relief fund in Rapid City has received about $300,000 in donations from people in 48 states and three countries. Another fund is set up at the First National Bank Community Foundation in Chadron.

It's a good time to remember how important the cattle industry is to our region.

The latest figures estimate it has a $12.1 billion effect on Nebraska's economy. The state has 20,000 beef cow operations, 1.88 million head of beef cows, in an average herd size of 94 head. There are 4,570 cattle feeding operations statewide, feeding and marketing 5.1 million cattle each year.

On average, there are 2.3 million cattle on feed, and only 770 feeding operations are larger than 1,000 head.

While there is much cattle operators can do to prepare for adverse weather, the blizzard was an unfortunate reminder of how much agricultural is at the mercy of Mother Nature.

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