STURGIS, SD -
The blizzard that killed thousands of livestock in western South Dakota was over in days, but the work to pick up the widely-scattered carcasses will continue for weeks.
Burying the dead isn't the hardest part of recovery for western South Dakota ranchers who lost livestock in the killer blizzard.
But it's close.
"It's probably not going to be as bad as seeing them for the first time," Meade County rancher Lee Spring said. "But it's not going to be a fun job, so…"
Spring says his family operation northwest of Union Center lost about 130 cows and calves in the heavy rain, deep snow and high winds that ravaged the range starting October 4. While some ranchers have managed to pick up most of their dead livestock, Spring and others have been blocked out of that difficult duty by soggy weather and mucky soil.
"They died out in the gumbo," Spring said. "And for anybody that knows what gumbo is, you got to let it dry up."
Union Center rancher, state legislator and supply store owner Gary Cammack knows about the gumbo. He and his sons have been fighting it to pick up nearly all of the 110 to 120 cattle they lost in the storm. Most of those have already been hauled to a disposal pit the county dug on high ground in one of Cammack's pastures.
But there's still a truckload of dead cattle, which got stuck in a neighbor's pasture, that they have yet to unload.
"We're trying to get some bigger equipment, trying to get out there and get it out," Union Center rancher Gary Cammack said. "But it's near impossible conditions."
Those conditions are the talk at Commack's store, where ranchers come to buy supplies, examine their losses and plot a difficult recovery from the early autumn blizzard.
Everyone here wants only to pick up their dead and move ahead as soon as possible.
"It's a pretty grim task," Cammack said. "And it's going to be repeated thousands of times over the next while."
With no help from the gumbo.
Cammack praises the state and county governments for their outreach to ranchers and help with the cleanup and disposal of livestock. But he says the magnitude of the losses will require federal-farm-bill help to keep many hard-hit ranchers on the land.
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