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Fodder for Thought

Bovine Relief Now Going to South Dakota Blizzard Area

Project working to match cattle with ranchers who lost stock in South Dakota blizzard.

If you’ve been paying attention to what is happening in western South Dakota over the past few weeks, you’ll know that an outpouring of support and funding has been coming to the aid of the ranchers hard hit by the early October blizzard.

One of these aid efforts, Heifers for S Dakota, is taking things one step further, not only donating money but also cattle. Ranchers from Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Utah and Virginia have collected livestock donations, with cattle coming from as far as Oklahoma, Virginia, and Arizona. You can read more about their efforts on their website,

The old adage, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,“ (in this case a gift cow) seems appropriate in this situation, yet it leaves me wondering (and I’m likely not the only one) whether the long term effects of these donations will be for the betterment of western South Dakota ranchers’ cowherds.

Questions that came to mind for me were:

  • Will these donated cattle be sufficiently adapted to the western SD region to not require significant inputs to survive?
  • What about the genetic factors to consider? Could there possibly be a genetic factor that led to the survival of certain cattle versus the ones which perished in the blizzard?

To get some answers on these live-animal donations I contacted Ty Linger, who is coordinating much of these efforts. Linger informed me that the stipulation they are putting on live animal donations is, “If it’s something you’d be proud to own, we’ll take them.”

Linger asks producers, “Give the best you have; we want to give a good gift.”

Linger told me that to date nearly all the cattle have been coming from regions with very similar climate and forage production. He believes they will fit in well with the mainly sandy loam grasslands of western South Dakota. Efforts will be made to pair cattle with producers to meet the breeds and calving dates of each ranch.

When it comes to the genetics factor Linger believes, “The deductions of what might have caused certain cattle to survive while others perished will be quite interesting. However, typically such data processing will take at least one year and likely several.”

“In the meantime, these producers need calves on the ground to pay the bills,” he says. “The cream of the donated crop will rise to the top, the same as it would in any group of purchased cattle.”

The first load of donated cattle are set to be delivered in the next couple of weeks. The lucky producers receiving these cattle will be the true test of whether this donation effort was worthwhile. I hope to follow up with Linger and some of these producers in a few months for an update on the "Heifers for S Dakota" project and see how the donated cattle are settling in.

Learn how you can help with this project on their website:

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