We're getting a clearer picture of the devastation caused by this month's blizzard in western South Dakota. The state's agriculture secretary says the livestock loss is between 15,000 to 25,000 head, but it may still be weeks before we can get an exact total. The blizzard has taken a devastating toll in the fields and with families.
Thousands of cattle dead; millions of dollars lost in the snow and cold. South Dakota's agriculture secretary calls the blizzard an "indiscriminate killer" of livestock.
"It was just too much for them to take," South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch said.
Riley & Jimmie Kammerer of New Underwood lost 90-percent of their calves and 80-percent of their cows in the storm.
"We were 10 days away from marketing our calves, and that's why they were still at summer pasture," Jimmie Kammerer said.
The Kammerers are tending the few livestock that survived the blizzard.
"With all the moisture, the grass has perked up and doing good and the cattle actually look really well, considering all the stress they were under during the storm," Riley Kammerer said.
The livestock losses are especially tough on younger ranchers like the Kammerers.
"Our balance sheet isn't as high as a lot of people because we don't have the assets built up," Kammerer said.
The blizzard also severed livestock blood lines that stretch back for generations.
"So when you have a loss of this magnitude it's not just the loss of life, but it's the loss of all that history of genetics and breeding because it is unique as a fingerprint," Lentsch said.
Valuable herds that may take years to rebuild. But the Kammerers say they'll keep ranching in spite of the hardship.
"As crazy as it sounds, after all we've been through, it goes deep, deep in our blood, and given the opportunity, you bet, we'll do it again," Jimmie Kammerer said.
The Kammerers are glad the government shutdown is finally over. They were on the phone Thursday with their Farm Service Agency rep in Rapid City to ask about federal help with their herds.