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South Dakota farmers and ranchers endure harsh winter months

Menno livestock
Evan Walton
Menno livestock

Farmers and ranchers are used to working hard and getting the job done, no matter the issues facing them. This winter was no exception.

Matt Mehlhaf farms north of Menno and owns the Menno livestock barn. He purchased the livestock barn in January, during one of the harshest winters in years.

He said livestock adapt to the cold, growing winter coats to keep in body warmth.

“Most livestock are outdoor animals, they have to weather every last bit of the weather, whether it is 40 below or 100 above you know, and the incredible thing that they are made to do that is incredible,” said Mehlhaf.

Mehlhaf said his biggest challenge over winter was the cost to keep his livestock fed and conduct daily chores.

“It takes a lot longer to do any chores or anything done in a winter like this. You have to be able to access the livestock or the feed and then you can finally do your chores," said Mehlhaf. "Inputs were higher, everything cost more, well because of what everything costs and then also winter, you know, even here just keeping ice down it cost more to try to soften that ice with salt and bedding if you can.”

About 15 miles south of Brookings, Brent Thompson farms and raises livestock in Elkton.

Thompson said he also faced big increases over the winter in the costs of livestock feed, care, and maintenance.

One positive outcome is the amount of water in much of the recent, heavy snow. Thompson said as temperatures rise, the soil is now absorbing the snow melt, replenishing years of drought.

“Where’d the water go? You know? A lot of it went into the ground, I mean, so we think we are very fortunate. Everybody thought that we would get into crops very early, thought it was going to be a late spring, which it still could be but everybody is kind of optimistic now cuz it's warming up, its like within two days all of a sudden we had bare fields, you know?,” said Thompson.   

One of Thompson’s biggest worries now, isn’t about weather, or livestock prices or farming practices. He’s concerned there seems to be no next generation to carry the torch.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t wont to do that work anymore, we got older gentlemen getting out, retiring, and the younger generation don’t want to do the work," said Thompson. "So, it's going to be interesting going forward if the cattle supply gets replenished or not, you know, we had the drought two years ago in Montana, took a lot of cows out. We had the drought down in Texas and Oklahoma, and even around here you know, if cows are getting sold, are the younger generations gonna be able to do it seven days a week? Do they want to do it seven days a week? Do they want to be out there in a blizzard? Time will tell.” 

While the winter season has added more work and cost for farmers and ranchers, Thompson said he endures it all, because he loves the business.

Evan Walton is an SDPB reporter based in Sioux Falls. Evan holds a Master’s in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015, where he served for five years as an infantryman.