Kathleen and Howard Ingalls have been ranching for over 55 years. From their ranch in Meade County, South Dakota, they’ve seen their fair share of bad weather over the years, but the winter storm known as Atlas, was just about as bad as it gets. Between October 3 and 5, an intense winter storm hit western South Dakota, bringing with it heavy rains, record breaking snowfall and hurricane force winds.
“We don’t typically see winter storms like this so early in October,” says Mrs. Ingalls. “At this time of year, the cattle are still slick, they haven’t developed their winter coat and they aren’t able to deal with this kind of wet and cold weather.”
The result? Tens of thousands of cattle, sheep and horses froze to death as hypothermia set in and ranchers watched helplessly.
“I was in touch with a number of our landowners in South Dakota in the days following the storm and it doesn’t look good,” says Joel De Souza, TransCanada Land Business Analyst for Keystone Projects. “Most of them have lost a significant amount of cattle, some as much as 240 head. A number of them aren’t sure how bad their losses will be. The high winds and driving snow pushed cattle over fences and so some ranchers are still trying to locate some of their cattle.”
Mrs. Ingalls and the Ingalls families have lost approximately 100 of their breeding cows – one-fifth of their total cattle stock.
“We had already weaned some of our calves so we didn’t lose all of them in the storm but a number of ranchers around here weren’t so lucky,” says Mrs. Ingalls. “They not only lost their breeding cows, they also lost the calves that would have sold this year.”
To complicate matters, days prior to Atlas, the United States Farm Bill expired and the passage of a new Farm Bill has been delayed. Without a new Farm Bill, farmers have been left without a number of programs including a Livestock Indemnity Program that would provide payments for livestock death losses due to adverse weather.
In the meantime, local organizations are providing some relief. The Black Hills Area Community Foundation is administering the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund in cooperation with the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association. The fund is available for immediate needs such as fuel, feed, fence repair, groceries and travel for medical services. TransCanada has made a donation to this fund in the amount of $10,000.
It will take time to calculate the total impact of winter storm Atlas. One thing is clear however, the storm will have a catastrophic effect on ranchers in western South Dakota.
Despite the circumstances, Mrs. Ingalls remains surprisingly optimistic: “All this rain and snow has filled our stock dams which means we will have a plentiful natural water supply for our cattle in the spring. It also means we are likely to have some nice spring grass.”