Positive Messages from South Dakota Tragedy

Telling Your Story

Opportunity to share in the midst of grief

Published on: October 16, 2013

The recent blizzard in South Dakota, without argument, was a tragedy.  The tally on the loss of cattle is yet to be determined, but certainly in the tens of thousands. 

This loss does open the opportunity to share how farmers care for livestock.

For several days, the national media did not cover the ramifications of the storm; it was primarily shared by the people who were directly impacted.  Without the national media's spin, the initial stories from the blizzard were the honest, gut-wrenching stories of agony about a blizzard that was significantly worse than forecasted. Rain followed by snow with high winds – the perfect storm with unimaginable consequences. 

This is an excellent example of sharing good news – a picture posted on the American Simmental Associations Facebook page — "Taken near Hettinger, North Dakota. The cattle loaded on these semis were stranded in the blizzard for 30 hours. All of the cattle survived! Its estimated that South Dakota may have lost over 50,000 head of cattle from the storm."
This is an excellent example of sharing good news – a picture posted on the American Simmental Association's Facebook page — "Taken near Hettinger, North Dakota. The cattle loaded on these semis were stranded in the blizzard for 30 hours. All of the cattle survived! It's estimated that South Dakota may have lost over 50,000 head of cattle from the storm."

There are many questions from those not familiar with ranching who don't understand why so many cattle died.  There are questions if the death toll had to do with a lack of proper care.  This is the time to share how we care for livestock. 

Some people believe that cattle live most of their lives in a feedlot.  Share how cattle live a large portion of their lives on pasture eating grass.  Keep telling the story that there are summer and winter pastures and what additional protections the winter pastures offer.  Explain that it takes days not hours to gather and move this many head of cattle.  It is challenging for someone not involved in this type of ranching to understand the time that it would have taken to move these cattle.

People have asked why the cattle were not put into barns.  It would be helpful to explain how the cattle were just growing their winter coats that would offer more protection.  It's not practical that this number of cattle to be in barns, but the question provides an opportunity to share why pigs and poultry are housed.

With such loss and uncertainly, share your pain.  If you were not directly involved in the storm, show empathy to those affected.  We deal with life and death in agriculture.  Sometimes it is very messy and things do not always work out as we had planned. 

As pictures are shared, provide context for what is going on.  So often, we are so close to what we know that we forget to tell what we are sharing.  Remember, most people at about three generations removed from a farm, they may not know what you are trying to show them.

Last, but certainly not least, share the victories.  If a calf or herd of cattle are found alive, tell about it!  People want to share in the good news.