South Dakota staggers under early blizzard

blizzard horses

By: Jill Nelson

One of the worst blizzards in South Dakota history plowed through the region during the first weekend of October, leaving a wake of destruction in its path. It will be days, maybe weeks, before ranchers can locate missing livestock, but estimates are they will find tens of thousands of dead cattle.

cattle frozen sturgis AP On Oct. 9, I was able to reach the Reinhold family, who live on a ranch in Meade County. They were in day six of a power outage, and phone lines had just been repaired the night before. “It just socked us,” Larry Reinhold told me in a sober tone. “It’s really, really bad. We didn’t lose as many cattle as some of our neighbors, but we lost a lot of horses. It’s a pretty big blow.”

The storm began with two inches of rain on Oct. 3, soaking livestock that had not yet grown their winter coats. Winds in the 60 to 70 mile an hour range added to the freezing temperatures as the rain converted to snow and dumped an unprecedented amount for the unusual October storm.

In nearby Rapid City, nestled in the Black Hills, 19 inches of snow fell on Oct. 4 alone. By day three, total snowfall reached 31 inches near Mount Rushmore and close to 5 feet of snow blanketed the hardest hit parts of western South Dakota. Hurricane-force wind gusts raged through the hills, breaking branches and uprooting massive pine trees already covered in ice.

For ranchers, the storm amounts to a tremendous financial loss. A few days before the storm, 17-year-old Molly Reinhold spoke with a friend who planned to sell 83 calves this weekend. Only 33 made it through the storm. Many of the family’s neighbors lost 20 to 50 percent of their livestock.

Some ranchers are turning to social media sites, posting heart-wrenching pictures of dead horses and cattle and venting frustration at the lack of national media coverage. President Barack Obama has yet to acknowledge the state’s disaster. Some are asking for help finding livestock that may still be alive.

In addition to raising Quarter horses and Hereford cattle on Lonetree Ranch, the Reinhold family operates Rainbow Bible Ranch, a summer camp where kids learn to ride horses and herd cattle on the wide-open prairie of their 4,250-acre ranch. Sharing the gospel is the camp’s cornerstone.

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  • sherriey

    that is soo sad. i feel so bad for all their losses. God Bless you all…my prayers are for you.

    October 14, 2013
  • Barbara Warner

    It’s past time that climate change be stopped. This is another tragedy and there will be more. Karen Sussman needs help badly. See

    October 15, 2013
  • Terra

    I am going to be ugly here. What I would like to know is what is the number of cattle deaths compare to horses during the winter months for say the last 20 years. South Dakota is a cold place in winter and this type of weather it nothing new. 20 years ago and to date PMU now Ex-PMU horses were know to have their ears frozen off when not bred and left in the fields or let out for a few hours during the day winter coat or not and I am sure cattle die then as well. I am sorry but if you live in a state that gets cold enough to kill and you do not protect the animals you breed you should suffer the lost for not providing some type of shelter for your livestock winter coat or not. If you leave them to the will of mother nature then you should live with the lost. I don’t feel sorry for you one bit. Not when you leave horses to stave and die year after year because all your hay is needed for your cattle. I say you are now reaping what you sow. There are Ex-PMU farms that still breed 100’s of mares each year and withhold hay during the winter to feed cattle and the horses end up paying during the cold winter months. If horses are livestock like cattle then why are they not feed and care for like cattle?

    October 16, 2013
    • sherriey

      ya know, Terra….you have a valid point there. i honestly didn’t realize some of what you said. i was sympathizing with the riding camps horses, more then the cows…but still feel badly for the suffering they went thru too. i am in the East…and we don’t do the same here…altho the cold here can kill too.
      my horses are out (but have run-ins) 24/7 all yr long…but have heavy winter blankets on in the winter with tanks full of warm water to drink…and hay too of course..(plus grain). i don’t understand why the animals are not housed or given shelters out there…..?

      October 16, 2013
  • janegreen

    Absolutely Terra, agreed. I call this nothing but animal neglect. No excuses. These are domestic animals that require shelter and attention, they look to us to take care of them. Might as well put your 10 year old out there to fend for himself. Makes me furious.

    October 16, 2013