The early October blizzard took away more than this fall’s calf crop for many producers in western South Dakota, the genetic makeup of the lost animals will take years to rebuild.
Jim Krantz, South Dakota State University Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist, says cattle are bred to fit the resources surrounding them with those specific genetics taking years to develop.
"A cow or heifer only has one calf each year, so it takes years and generations to develop genetics," Krantz said. "Each ranch is unique and may have different genetic needs based on the environment, feed resources and country they live in."
Donations are pouring in to assist producers affected by the blizzard. Livestock associations in South Dakota have already collected over $400,000 from around the country to help alleviate the situation. Government assistance is anticipated with the passage of a new farm bill, although a definite timeline is unknown. The blizzard has led some producers to find another job to cover some of their losses.
Adele Harty, SDSU Cow/Calf Field Specialist, put the situation in perspective.
"Imagine you lost your job and you know that you will be unable to get another job for two years (which is what happened when rancher's fall calf crop died and their cows, pregnant with the 2014 calf crop, also died). While at the same time you have to make payments on a $100,000 credit card or you'll lose your home and the land your great-great-grandfather homesteaded," Harty said.
The effects of the storm have a heavy impact on producers just starting out, but anyone who has lost cattle is suffering steep financial losses as cattle are selling for record prices. Rebuilding their herds will take years and will come at a higher price as heifer calves with desired genetics in low supply and selling at a premium.
"Prices for such high quality breeding stock commonly range from $3,000 to $10,000 per head, but the value of losing decades worth of genetic selection in a herd is incalculable," explained Rosie Nold, SDSU Extension Ag & Natural Resources Program Director, SDSU.
Those losses by ranchers are expected to spill into the area’s economy. South Dakota Stock Growers Association’s Silvia Christen estimates the indirect impact of the losses on the economy to total $1.7 billion.