Veterinarian Explains Livestock Death Situation

Nov 7, 2013

Numbers are still being reported for livestock lost in the early October blizzard in western South Dakota.  With about 14,000 cattle reported dead so far. Veterinarians are researching what happened and they're able to explain the cause of death for most livestock.

West River Ranchers are still sending in reports of dead cattle five weeks after the storm. State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven says many ranchers were caught by surprise. He says because this storm wasn’t normal, it caused unexpected devastation.

"Basically a congestive heart failure type of situation where the cattle became hypothermic from the cold rain and weather; not having their winter coats built up yet. And eventually they became exhausted and their heart and lungs worked overtime causing hypertension in the lungs and pushing fluid out into those lungs. So, (this is an) unfortunate situation for many of those livestock," Oedekoven says.

Oedekoven says more than 1,250 sheep, nearly 300 horses and 40 bison have also been reported dead by ranchers. Oedekoven says he assumes most ranchers have reported their lost livestock numbers by now, but there’s probably some who may never report in what was lost.

With so many ranchers losing large numbers of livestock, experts are wondering how devastation like this could be avoided in the future. State Veterinarian Oedekoven says these types of events are sometimes hard to learn from because severe snow storms in early October tend to be rare.

"I guess one thing that this highlights is we do continue to work with producers, county emergency managers and others in the livestock industry about planning for these types of events where you have mass numbers of livestock that have died," Oedekoven says.

Oedekoven says most mass livestock deaths in South Dakota occur with severe weather events or from disease. He says there are several programs to help ranchers in need like the rancher's relief fund.