STURGIS | Weather awareness is job number one for anyone in the agriculture business, and that’s no more true than for a livestock producer.
Even so, any forecast of an early October snowstorm still makes ranchers like Gary Deering uneasy, especially those with memories of the devastating blizzard from October of 2013.
That storm, nicknamed Atlas, or the Cattleman’s Blizzard, struck the northern Great Plains on Oct. 3-5, 2013, dumping heavy, wet snow, with sustained winds of 40-50 miles per hour, with some gusts exceeding 70 mph.
Livestock losses in hardest-hit western South Dakota were as high as 43,000.
So when forecasters predicted potentially heavy snow for western South Dakota last week, Deering and other ranchers took note.
“We’re going to be gun shy. It’s only been six years. Atlas is in the backs of our minds, there’s no doubt about that,” Deering said.
Deering, who ranches near Hereford in south central Meade County, took the usual precautions and moved cattle from summer pastures to more protected areas closer to home.
As it turned out, snowfall forecasts turned out to be less than originally predicted, although higher elevations in the Northern Hills did receive up to a foot of snow.
“Thankfully in my area, we didn’t near the amount of snow they were predicting. That made a huge difference," said Adele Harty, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist who lives north of Philip, about 90 miles east of Rapid City.
One of the biggest challenges of any early season storm, is that cattle have yet to develop their protective winter coats, and rains preceding temperature drops and a changeover to snow can severely stress livestock.
“With the cattle, if they’re wet their tolerance for cold is a lot lower,” Harty said.
The 2013 storm dumped snow measured in feet. Ranchers who heeded forecasts and moved their herds to sheltered areas still suffered severe losses.
“I get a little frustrated when some people try to make it sound like some people didn’t take precautions back then. That was such a massive storm. It was just way too much,” Deering said.
You have free articles remaining.
“It didn’t matter what you did. I know of one particular guy who locked his cattle in a shed and the shed collapsed. What more are you going to do?” he said.
But even after last week’s less severe storm snowfall, livestock, especially weaned calves, could still be stressed, Harty said.
“They were probably off their feed because they had weaned,” she said. “They could break with some respiratory illness.”
Since the weekend snow, the weather has returned to normal early fall temperatures. Today’s forecast even calls for daytime highs in the upper 70s.
“When we have extreme fluctuations in temperature, that’s also stressful on livestock,” Harty said. “That could be adding to the risks of those calves getting sick.”
Deering said his cattle have adapted well to weather extremes, which can range from highs exceeding 110 degrees in the summer to as cold as 40-below zero in the winter.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere that sees those kinds of extremes,” he said. “That’s what our stock has to put up and they’ve adapted well to it.”
Deering calls western South Dakota one of the best places to raise cattle, and one of the hardest.
Inclement weather is just part of the deal.
This year has been peculiar from a weather standpoint with a shortened summer season.
The last measurable snow in the Black Hills came on May 23, with plentiful rainfall continuing all through the growing season. Hay was plentiful, but difficult to bale because of all the wet weather.
“I’d rather see the moisture come in the form of rain instead of the white, but it is what it is,” Deering said.
“We went from winter to summer and now to go to from summer to winter is just tough.”