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Published October 10, 2013, 09:57 PM

Cattle ranchers recover from South Dakota blizzards

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - The cleanup has begun in South Dakota after tens of thousands of cattle died in a devastating blizzard.

By: Becky Parker, WDAY

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - The cleanup has begun in South Dakota after tens of thousands of cattle died in a devastating blizzard.

And with no Farm Bill, ranchers who suffered massive losses don't know when or if they will get disaster relief.

Cattle in this area are no strangers to the cold, and are very adaptive animals.

The problem is, this unusually early storm came out of nowhere, before they had a chance to develop their winter coats.

These pastures in western South Dakota now look more like graveyards.

A blizzard came out of nowhere, and took these cattle by surprise.

Mike Maher ranches southwest of Isabel, South Dakota.

He says the storm claimed about five percent of his herd.

Maher: "We lost the factory. That's what it was, the factory."

Dr. Charlie Stoltenow with the NDSU extension service says several factors led to this devastation.

Dr. Stoltenow: "The term would be a perfect storm."

The cattle had not grown winter coats two inches of rain soaked them before heavy snow began piling up.

According to instinct, they began walking with the wind.

Dr. Stoltenow: "That means they would have gotten trapped in ravines and valleys and just got stuck because they could not see."

Stoltenow says a storm this early and this surprising to cattle likely hasn't happened since the 1880s.

And though the cattle industry will rebound, those who lost large parts of their herd have a long road ahead.

Dr. Stoltenow: "To lose 20, 50, 100 percent of your cattle is catastrophic."

The Stockmen's Association tells ranchers to keep detailed records and photos of their losses, so that when a Farm Bill does pass they can recover some of that loss.

There is also a Rancher Relief Fund set up at GiveBlackHills.org.

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