The twelve counties comprising the Northwest and West Central agricultural reporting districts (Butte, Corson, Dewey, Harding, Perkins, Ziebach, Haakon, Jackson, Lawrence, Meade, Pennington, and Stanley) were among the South Dakota counties hardest hit by the blizzard on Oct. 4-5, 2013.
According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, these twelve counties had 769,000 head of cattle and calves as Jan. 1, 2013.
Of these, an estimated 456,000 head were beef cows on ranches. While final losses are still being tallied, South Dakota’s state veterinary office estimates up to 25,000 head may have perished in the storm. This implies upwards to 5 percent of the region’s cow herd could have been lost in the blizzard.
To those not familiar with the beef cow industry, a 5 percent loss of beef cows in just one part of one state might seem small, but the economic impact on the region and state are significant and will be felt for some time.
The impact on individual ranchers suffering the losses is especially large. Some individual ranchers have had confirmed losses of over 20 percent of their herd. Though not verified through official reporting venues, many reports indicate much higher losses, up to 50 percent of herds in some cases.
Based on 2007 Census of Agriculture data, the average beef cow herd size is about 155 head in Northwest and West Central South Dakota. Even a 10 percent loss for such an average sized operation would be about 16 head. Given the high cull rates in recent years caused by drought and high feed costs, it is expected that many of the beef cows that died in the storm would have been young cows near the peak of their productivity.
Current market prices for good, young bred cows generally range from $1500-2000/head. Prices for pairs (cows with calves at their side) range from $2000/pair to $2500/pair. So, for an average loss of 16 head of cows conservatively valued at $1500/head, the total value of the death loss is about $24,000.
The rancher with a 20 percent death loss having an average herd size of 155 head could have lost over $46,500 in the storm. Of course, some ranches are much larger than these averages and lost 75-100 head of beef cows (or more), which would be valued from $112,000 to $150,000. Financial losses of a quarter million dollars or more to an individual rancher are quite possible in many situations.
The value of the lost beef cows only is part of the financial impact that ranchers will experience from this storm. In the short run, costs for recovery efforts will include extra feed, fence repairs, and disposal of dead animals. Reports are also coming in that there is death loss among cows that survived the storm, and calves have reduced immune function, making them more susceptible to respiratory and other diseases.