ST. ONGE, SD (CBS) -- The budget deadlock in Washington is having a devastating impact on cattle ranchers in South Dakota. Thousands of cows were killed in a freak autumn blizzard, but with government partially shut down, no federal assistance is available at a time when ranchers need it most.
The numbers are astounding. Tens of thousands of dead cattle are being collected from South Dakota's western prairie. On October 3, an unusual autumn snow storm blanketed nearly 100 miles, stranding animals in ravines and pastures where they froze to death. and many more could die in the months to come. Cattle rancher and veterinarian Mike McIntyre says, "As the snow came over the top, it literally started burying them."
Sioux Falls rancher McIntyre lost nearly 200 cattle, worth over a thousand dollars a head. McIntyre says, "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."
Others lost 80 to 90 percent of their herd. Executive director of South Dakota Farmer's Union Karla Holfenke says, "It creates quite the economic disaster for them. By losing the cows themselves, they've lost paychecks for years to come."
The blizzard, coming just days after 80 degree weather, brought winds of 70 miles an hour and record snowfall, as much as four feet. Drifts were so deep cattle were able to step over fence lines, walking as much as 12 miles before they froze to death. Rancher Scott Crowser says, "Ya started out in being kinda in shock, and then you went numb. And I don't know what stage we're at now."
Traditionally, the federal government would provide a financial cushion in a crisis like this. But the farm bill expired during the government shutdown and ranchers say help, if it comes, is months away.
Officials say because the storm came so early, the herds were still grazing in their summer pastures, and had not yet grown their winter coats to protect them from the cold.