South Dakota ranchers show strength after October blizzard - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

South Dakota ranchers show strength after October blizzard

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The big, white, puffy clouds will deceive you. The quiet rustle of grass while cattle graze will too. This spring day was much like last October 3rd.

"The weather was nice. Beautiful afternoon. But, when you really started knowing that things we're going to go to heck is when the phone came with this alert. I'd never heard that alarm sound on the phone, about three o'clock," said rancher Dan Piroutek.

Piroutek has been ranching his family's homestead outside of Milesville, 35 miles north of Philip, for nearly four decades. Starting the morning of Friday, October 4th until the evening of October 5th Piroutek saw driving rain, whipping winds, and three feet of snow.

"What it really did is expose the vulnerability that things like this can happen."

South dakota's state veterinarian estimates more than 43,000 cattle, horses, and sheep were killed in the blizzard. At the time, many of the animals were still grazing in summer pastures and hadn't grown their winter coats.

"For many families (it was) the final week of calves on grass before they were going to bring them in and send them to market. That was the year's work that was not able to pay out for those families," said Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Trudy Wastweet. "It took calves. It took cows. That has several years of impact when the cows are lost."

Said Piroutek, "People were hurt in different ways, not just economically but emotionally. I don't really hear many stories about how people are trusted with the lives of their livestock. They felt like things got out of their control. It was almost like a personal loss or a human loss when they lose their cattle like that."

Because of their lifestyle and their livelihood, ranchers are fiercely independent. The October blizzard proved that people need each other and a sense of community. The sale barn in Belle Fourche has become that.

"Look around today, a nice sunshiny day and people are getting through calving and are actually prepared to come to town and see their neighbors," said the owner of the Belle Fourche sale barn Thor Roseth.

The familiar sounds of a sale barn mean life is returning to normal in West River.

With the help of the state's Livestock Indemnity Program, the Rancher Relief Fund, and federal disaster aid some of these ranchers have been able to start replacing their herds.

"I called all of our state senators and representatives. I did not get to personally talk to them, but I did talk to their representatives. I did say that if there was anybody that ever deserved the disaster money, it's these people up here and it does look like it's going to arrive," said Piroutek.

Added Roseth, "We've got producers in this area that have checks in hand or have cashed the checks already. It is being dispersed, and they're doing a really good job of getting that money out there."

The state's Department of Agriculture says most ranchers should receive disaster assistance funds within four to six weeks.

As each day passes, life gets a little bit closer to normal for these ranchers. Another calving season brings hope and prosperity. But, these men and women will never forget the early blizzard of 2013.

"The October blizzard really is a life-changing event for many families," said Wastweet.

"But, we do face disasters in our life. Every day there's disaster that happens," said Piroutek. "The thing different here is that it was these people, and it was right in front of them. It's something they do not want to have to go through again."

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