The grim task of cleaning up the tens of thousands of dead livestock killed during last weekend's blizzard is going to take awhile.
Many farmers and ranchers in western South Dakota are just beginning to realize how devastating the storm was on their herds as the snow begins to melt, revealing what looks like massive grave sites. For many, it's almost too much to take.
It's a sickening scene, as cattle producers begin to count their losses and clean up the carcasses.
In a lot of cases, entire herds huddled up in the open pastures and ravines to try to stay warm.
"The worst thing is we had two inches of rain followed by three feet of snow afterwards, so not only was the ground wet, the cattle sunk into it. Many of them actually drowned as the snow came over top, literally started burying them and crushing them and pushing them down into the wet soil underneath there," veterinarian Mike McIntyre said.
McIntyre, who is a veterinarian at Sioux Nation Pet Clinic in Sioux Falls, has 200 head still unaccounted for. Because of his full-time job, he hasn't been able to go check on them.
"The worst thing is not knowing where they are, which 20-foot snow drift are they buried underneath four days after the fact," McIntyre said.
McIntyre says because the snow drifts were so deep, a lot of cattle were able to step over fence lines, roaming from pasture to pasture, looking for higher ground. McIntyre's neighbor told him some made it as far as the Interstate.
"In fact, he said one of the reasons they had to close the Interstate was there were literally so many dead animals littering it, it was impassable," McIntyre said.
McIntyre says he lost about a quarter of his herd, but many others lost 80 percent to 90 percent of theirs, which is devastating to a cattle producer.
"Forty years of putting everything, your heart and labor into everything and gone in one terrible snow storm. And what's concerning myself and a lot of other people is, we're not even into winter yet," McIntyre said.
McIntyre plans to travel to western South Dakota this weekend to begin documenting his losses for insurance purposes and if by chance, there's any government assistance.