Impact of April blizzard on SD cattle remains to be seen

IDEAL, S.D. -- The calves at Jorgensen Land & Cattle were at least a few weeks old when a blizzard hit April 13-14. That made the storm "kind of an inconvenience of sorts," but the ranch didn't lose any calves, says Bryan Jorgensen.

Tripp County, S.D., received 20 to 24 inches of snow. Jorgensen Land & Cattle, in Ideal, S.D., had hours of snow moving on April 14, 2018, before feeding could begin. (Bryan Jorgensen)

IDEAL, S.D. - The calves at Jorgensen Land & Cattle were at least a few weeks old when a blizzard hit April 13-14. That made the storm "kind of an inconvenience of sorts," but the ranch didn't lose any calves, says Bryan Jorgensen.

But elsewhere in Tripp County, where 20 to 24 inches of snow fell as strong winds blew through, other producers weren't as lucky. Ranchers with younger calves or who are in the midst of calving lost large numbers, Jorgensen says.

"I've heard some horror stories," he says.

The storm that moved through the region dropped more than a foot of snow in many places across the Midwest, with some areas receiving more than 20 inches of snow, like Tripp County. Timed at the peak of calving season, there have been concerns for large numbers of livestock losses to the snow and cold.

Jodie Anderson, executive director of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, has made some calls and checked in with ranchers throughout the state following strong storms that dropped more than a foot of snow on parts of the Midwest.


"I have not heard of major wrecks or anything like that," she says.

The eventual cumulative reports of livestock lost to the storm might be large, but Anderson says she hasn't heard of any one producer with major losses. Though it remains to be seen how all ranchers came out, Anderson says she's operating under a position of "no news is good news."

Anderson says producers had plenty of time to prepare for the storm. Though the storm produced more snow and more cold weather than is typical of an April storm, she says it's not completely without precedent.

"It snows in April a lot here in South Dakota," she says.

She has heard of concerns regarding sick calves going forward.

Moisture is always good

Jorgensen says it took until mid afternoon April 14 to push all the snow to get their 850 cow-calf pairs fed, along with the lot of 3,500 Angus bulls that the Jorgensens background, lease and sell.

The ranch's bull sale was April 16 in nearby Winner, S.D. The bulls went in before the storm hit, and weekend traffic to look them over was light, Jorgensen says. But the crowd was plentiful on sale day, and the sale average was the highest it's ever been.


In many parts of the state, farmers and ranchers were thankful for the shot of moisture, in any form, following the 2017 drought, Anderson adds, conceding that farmers in eastern South Dakota are concerned about conditions being too wet to get in the field in a timely manner.

"The moisture is always good," Jorgensen agrees.

However, his crew may be faced with some decisions in the coming weeks, as they've been delayed on spring grains planting. Usually, they'd be done seeding spring wheat, oats and a pea-oat forage by April 10.

"We've only got 200 acres planted" out of about 1,500 acres, he says.

The Jorgensens farm about 12,000 acres total. If they can't get back in the field soon, he anticipates switching some acres to warm-season forages and soybeans.

Report losses to FSA

While it'll be some time until there are any estimates of the number of cattle lost in the storm, Farm Service Agency officials are reminding producers who experienced significant livestock losses to report to their county FSA offices.

Jamie White, executive officer with South Dakota FSA, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says producers have 30 days within the occurrence of an adverse weather event to report losses under the Livestock Indemnity Program to their county offices.


"Timeliness is of the utmost importance," she says.

Producers will need to have information regarding their beginning inventory and the loss numbers associated with the storm. They also will need verification of their losses in some form, including cattle logs, photos, rendering receipts or third-party verification, which can be achieved through a visit by an FSA official, White says.

Under the program, only deaths in excess of a normal mortality rate are compensated, White explains. LIP pays $438 per calf for calves under 400 pounds and $1,194 per adult cow. Those amounts are after sequestration fees of 6.6 percent are taken out. A normal mortality rate for calves is 5 percent.

The USDA also issued a news release that directed producers to several other programs in addition to the Livestock Indemnity Program. Help may be obtained through the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program and the Tree Assistance Program. Detailed information on all of these disaster assistance programs can be found online at .

White says the last comparable storm to go through was a winter storm in October 2013, dubbed "Atlas." The storm struck unseasonably early, when most cattle remained out on pasture, giving them little to no protection. Though that storm was more centered on western South Dakota, it is believed to have killed tens of thousands of livestock. But Anderson says that from what she's heard, the recent storm will have nowhere near the impact of Atlas.

The snow that piled up in South Dakota in the April 13-14 storm will further delay an already delayed planting season. (Bryan Jorgensen)

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