PHILIP, S.D. (AP) — Joe Carley has nearly finished burying the cattle he lost in a freak early fall blizzard that killed tens of thousands of cattle in western South Dakota. Now, he's figuring out how to dig himself out of the financial hole left after about a quarter of his cows and maybe a third of his calves died in the storm.
"There's some sleepless nights. There's a lot of worry. My brain's always rolling. We're pulling ourselves out of it, you know. We're trying to figure things out and step forward," Carley, 40, of Philip, said during a break from herding cattle at the local livestock sale barn, where he works to help make ends meet.
Other ranchers in the area also don't plan to give up, despite what state officials have estimated as a loss of 15,000 to 30,000 cattle in the Oct. 4-5 storm that dumped up to 4 feet of snow in some parts. The financial loss is staggering, with each calf worth more than $1,000 and each pregnant cow worth $1,500 to $2,000. To make matters worse, most ranchers were only a few weeks away from selling the calves born last spring — their paycheck for the year.
Ranchers like Carley may get low-interest loans or loan guarantees from a U.S. Agriculture Department program and could get some help from a relief fund set up by livestock organizations that have so far collected donations of $400,000 from people in nearly every state and some other countries. A Montana organization is asking ranchers in that state to donate heifers that can be given to help South Dakota ranchers rebuild their herds.
Ranchers also could get a big boost if a federal livestock disaster program that expired in 2011 is revived in a new farm bill. The House and Senate versions of the new farm bill include provisions to do just that and to provide retroactive payments, but the two chambers have been unable to agree on a farm bill after passing different versions several months ago. Spurred partly by the disaster, the House and Senate now plan to restart negotiations.
"Anything will help, I guess," said Carley, who lost 51 cows and 70 calves. "We're not asking for handouts, either, but there are a lot of people in need around here."
Dave Schriever, vice president of lending for First National Bank of Philip, said most ranchers will survive after selling their remaining calves at current high prices. Recovery plans will vary according to each rancher's situation, debt load and size of loss, he said.
"Obviously, some people out there got hit really hard. They're going to struggle for the next several years trying to get their operations to work, trying to get the cash flow to work," Schriever said, talking over the staccato voice of an auctioneer during a visit to the Philip Livestock Auction on a sale day.
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