Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
While the government shutdown dominated headlines through the first two weeks of October, another disaster was playing out on the vast plains of South Dakota.
A freak winter storm dumped four feet of wet snow that soaked cattle to the skin and killed tens of thousands of livestock in the region, according to Philip, S. D. rancher Bill Slovek.
“You could just trail how they drifted in the storm by following the dead bodies till you finally found the ones that were still alive,” Slovek said.
The nearly 4 feet of snow that fell for 2 days in the first week of October killed between 15,000 to 30,000 cattle, according to officials. One ranch lost nearly 90 horses.
Their plight has caught the attention of cattlemen and women from a number of states, including Oklahoma, and they are helping their northern counterparts “dig out,” said Lori White, an Oklahoma rancher.
White, together with other Oklahoma cattlemen, recently organized a benefit auction on the fly.
With the last minute cooperation of the Northwest Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation, they have put together an impressive array of items that will be auctioned at the NWOCF Annual Trade Show and Banquet Tuesday night, White said.
The auction will be held at the Woodward County Fairgrounds, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The trade show opens at 4:30 p.m.
“In this industry we try to help each other out, you don’t wait for the government to send you check. You figure out what people need and you provide it for them,” White said.
The money earned at Tuesday night’s auction will go to the Rancher Relief Fund of South Dakota for the direct benefit of ranchers there who all but lost everything, White said.
There are also opportunities for ranchers who wish to donate livestock, to participate through Heifers for South Dakota, White said.
This organization pairs donated cattle with ranchers in South Dakota who were most drastically affected by the storm losses, she said.
Slovek said he’s not one of those.
“We are the lucky ones. We lost eight cows and 12 calves - about one percent of my cow herd and one and a half percent of my calves,” Slovek said. “Other people lost half their herd."
According to Slovek, the October 4th, epic storm was the earliest since weather data has been being compiled.
“They talk about this being a 100-year storm but I really think it could be more like a 500-year storm,” he said.
The key to its devastation lay in what Slovek calls everything “going perfectly wrong.”
First, an icy cold rain drenched cattle to the skin, then four feet of snow, fell, he said. If that wasn’t bad enough, it all came with two days of 30 to 60 mile per hour, bitterly cold wind.
“We hadn’t even had a killing frost before this hit so the cattle were still slicked off and didn’t have their winter coats on,” Slovek said. “They needed more food energy to survive this and they couldn’t eat because they couldn’t move in that snow to forage.”
Slovek's ranch lies on the eastern boarder of the storm and he received less snow than some of his neighbors west of him.
He is concerned that the new young crop of ranchers, who had risked everything on their ranches and their cattle, will not survive this tragedy.
The timing of the storm was as cruel as the elements, stealing a year worth of investment into a herd just about a week before the calves were to go to sale, Slovek said.
In many cases, it was the money from that single fall sale of calves, each worth about $1,000, that would pay bank notes and for the feed that went into the herd that year, he said.
Anyone interested in showing up to the Northwest Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Trade Show and Banquet is welcome to come and make a bid at the auction, White said.
Others, like Beaver rancher Brent Howard, who have donated a pair of bred cows to the cause, can go to https://www.facebook.com/pledgeheifer- the site for Heifers for South Dakota, to find out how to pledge livestock directly to those ranchers most in need.
According to Slovek, some nearby ranchers called to donate hay, and Slovek offered some creative advice about what ranchers in his region really need.
“We now have ranchers who had hay stocked up, but have no cows to feed with it,” he said. “Perhaps those with hay to donate, can sell the hay they want to donate and send the funds to Rancher Relief Fund so ranchers can then use that money to replace their livestock, Slovek said.
For those interested in donating funds and to find out more about Rancher Relief Fund, go to www.ranchersrelief.org.
Earlier this year, Lori White and her husband Benji had planned to donate a Red Angus heifer to an auction that benefits the Oklahoma Red Angus Association for the preparations of the 2016 Nation Red Angus Association Convention.
“When I heard about the ranchers in South Dakota, I told my husband that I’d rather have that heifer go to benefit the ranchers there,” she said.
So an idea was hatched of a hastily organized benefit auction to send some support from Northwest Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation and women to those brothers and sisters in the industry, White said.
That didn’t leave much time for White to begin calling and soliciting donations for the auspicious event, which is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday evening at Woodward County Fairgrounds building.
Included in the offerings for the auction are:
1. A western wreath by the Burlap Diva
2. A hand-stitched baby quilt from Mike and Annie Switzer of Quartermaster Creek Angus
3. A custom cowhide cap with brand from Chrome Cowgirls
4. A 17 cal. Rifle with scope and bipod from Mac McKinsey Ford of Clinton.
5. A hog hunt from Chain Ranch Outfitters
6. Two “green light inspections” from Western Equipment.
7. Western art from Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard
All funds that are derived from the auction will go directly to Rancher Relief Fund, an arm of South Dakota Cattleman’s Association.
According to White, there will be other items that come in for the auction before the event.
If you would like to donate please contact White at 580-334-2803.