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Heifers For South Dakota

October 21, 2013, 9:58 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Heifers For South Dakota

The images of the thousands of cattle that died during the early October blizzard have been heartbreaking for many and all too real for ranchers.

"It'd be devastating to walk out and see your whole livelihood dead in a creek somewhere," Burke-area rancher D.J. Steffen said.

Steffen has his own herd of cattle near Burke, South Dakota, and when he learned about the livestock losses farther west, he knew he wanted to help.  But being in the business himself, he knew he didn't just want to write a check.

"Most ranchers don't ranch for the money.  It's more of a lifestyle than a form of income," Steffen said.

That's when he found the group Heifers for South Dakota, a grassroots organization that sprouted up quickly and is already growing.

"Right away they're going to have that and there's going to be a new calf there this spring.  If someone was going to do that for me, it would sure make me feel better," Heifers for South Dakota Nebraska and South Dakota organizer Kim Shepperd said.

Shepperd has become the go-to organizer for the group in South Dakota and Nebraska.

Heifers for South Dakota is working to donate livestock to the ranchers who lost cattle in the storm. Shepperd already has ranchers in the region who have pledged 60 heifers.

"If we could get two, three, four truckloads that would be great," Shepperd said.

Heifers for South Dakota was started as a Facebook page and then a website just in the last few weeks by an eastern Montana rancher who had the idea of donating cattle to help rebuild herds.

"We're focusing on livestock. We're focusing on giving quality-type, breeding material that will be an investment in these people's lives; not just right now with a check donation but for years to come," Montana rancher and Heifers for South Dakota organizer Ty Linger said.

He says the response has been outstanding so far with around 400 cattle pledged and another $11,000 in donations given to buy livestock for ranchers.

"I would love to help at least 30 families. Our current plan is to donate 15 to 20 head of cattle to a family just getting started in agriculture, young people. This is the focus group most of the donors are wanting to reach out to," Linger said.

They are asking for emails, calls, messages and suggestions as they gather more cattle to donate.

"We had a private message the other day about a gentlemen who said, 'I lost most of my herd but I know my neighbor is in even worse shape than me.  So if someone puts my name on your list, please give what you were intending to donate to me to him,' and that touched my heart that even after all his loss, he was still willing to help someone out," Shepperd said.

And Heifers for South Dakota says the donation of livestock will help out the ranchers long term - it will also help them out with morale.

Steffen has already pledged three of his cows to the cause.

"It's something I thought would be meaningful, let people know you care and that you're willing to give up part of your herd to help somebody out," Steffen said.

"If you use the example of give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day or teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime, we're giving these people a fishing pole. They already know how to do it. They already know how to catch the fish. We're just giving them the means to keep rolling with it," Linger said.

The organization hopes the help and support keep pouring in, so this group of ranchers can help out ranchers in the best way they know how.

"I hope it keeps growing. It's great that people are willing to give," Steffen said.

Heifers for South Dakota has also heard from truckers, veterinarians and brand inspectors who are willing to donate their time to make the effort possible.

The group is accepting donations through November 9.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
The amount of money collected so far is $11,000.

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