You know what’s amazing? Every time I turned on my TV over the last eleven days, I’ve seen something about the government shutdown. The national media have rehashed it 1,000 times. How it’s affecting furloughed employees. What does this mean for the economy? Common, everyday tasks and information that is now impossible to do and get because the government is partially shutdown. Even how it’s affecting middle America and farmers.
Shoot, as an IFB employee, I’ve gotten most of those calls from the media.
What’s more amazing? The fact that the national media haven’t picked up on one of the biggest impacts of the partial government shutdown: South Dakota farmers and ranchers being left out in the cold.
Don’t be surprised if you need me to further explain. After all, there’s been little to no national media coverage about the blizzard that ravaged western South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska last weekend.
But ravaged it was. While the western plains states are accustomed to early snow, they aren’t accustomed to inches of rain followed by feet of snow and 70+ mile per hour winds – all in the first weekend of October. And their livestock aren’t accustomed to it, either.
Which is why it’s estimated more than 70,000 cows in western South Dakota are now dead. And that doesn’t include sheep and horses that perished in the storm, either. Without FSA and USDA offices open, farmers and ranchers have no one in which to turn. Add to it there’s no new farm bill, and ranchers are really left out in the cold, with no disaster relief programs or indemnity programs.
For livestock producers and folks involved in agriculture, that’s gut-wrenching enough in itself. Losing animals is never easy. But, for me, what’s worse still is some of the internet chatter I’ve read following Facebook photos and information surfacing about the blizzard.
It’s the clearest illustration I’ve ever seen of the disconnect between farmers and ranchers and the general public.
Because of the lack of national media attention, a South Dakota rancher posted a picture to Ellen DeGeneres’ Facebook page, asking her to cover the story on her talk show and the comments got a little heated, as you can see above. As of last night, more than 6,000 people had commented on the photo. Some, just to leave well wishes, and others to question the efforts of farmers and ranchers. Still more, ranchers themselves, to comment on just what they could and couldn’t do.
Now, I’m no rancher. But in my previous life working for an ad agency (and animal health company), I’ve had the chance to visit and interview a whole lot of ranchers and I can tell you this, most of them would have given their left arms to be able to save their herds. Here are the complications with which they dealt:
- Most cattle were still on summer pasture, meaning there are fewer draws and creek beds in which to hide out. On a normal year, South Dakota may see some early snow, but nothing that would prevent cattle from staying on summer and fall pastures through the middle to end of October.
- Being that it is still early fall, most cattle and horses haven’t had the chance to grow their winter hair yet, which would have insulated them from 24+ inches of snow.
- Ranching is the backbone of South Dakota, with many ranchers owning hundreds of cows. When those cows are on summer pasture, further away from homes, it’s much harder to move them quickly to another pasture. And, in many cases, shelter wouldn’t be an option anyway because of the shear number of animals.
- Most importantly, from the ranchers I know and have interviewed, I can tell you this isn’t just a loss of profit. Sure, that will be a tough cross to bear. But many of these ranchers have been developing their genetics and family lines for generations. Meaning the cow, with the calf at her side and the unborn calf, that is lost is three generations of herd genetics those ranchers can’t get back by going out and buying a replacement. It just doesn’t work that way.
So what’s the point? The point is it’s time for more questions and less judgment. Or even, more support and less judgment. Farmers and ranchers aren’t out to make the quickest buck and leave their livestock high and dry. And, if you don’t believe me, check out some of the articles and blogs from the very best sources, the ranchers themselves.
You can read some of the best here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here (warning: some of these pictures are tough to see), here, here and here. Oh, and this last one, too.
If you would like to help support ranchers in South Dakota, visit the Ranchers’ Relief Fund.