The devastating early blizzard that shut down parts of South Dakota last week is a harsh reminder of how we’re at the mercy of the almighty Mother Nature. As several news outlets are now reporting, the number of cattle who have died or are missing tops the 100,000 mark.

Similar to the wicked spring snowstorm that claimed the lives of thousands of sheep and cattle in the UK this last winter, the South Dakota blizzard hit hard and lasted too long. When a snow storm starts as rain, hair is flattened and the usual layer of air and hair to keep animals warm disappears, leaving animals struggling to maintain body temperature.

The images from the blizzard are sad and gut-wrenching. So many animals lost, accounting for a huge chunk of many ranchers’ livelihoods. To make matters even worse, the U.S. government shut down is slowing aid to the stricken area and ranchers. What’s especially difficult to wrap my head around is that, really, was there much any of these ranchers could have done to save their animals? The answer, I’m afraid, is no. (For an excellent analysis of what went wrong, read this article.)

In reading the news, my thoughts turned to our own pastures and rangeland. Debra Murphy’s memories of the spring 2013 calving season are still fresh — late snow and cold, wet condition cost so many calves their lives. My question to Debra was, “What will you or did you change for the 2014 calving season?” We can’t predict when menacing storms will come our way, but we can prepare for them. Debra’s own response was that they’ve moved calving slightly later and are investing in portable windbreaks to help with the (possible) cold at calving season.

Does your ranch have a plan for wicked weather? Has the storm in South Dakota prompted you to make any “in case of emergency” plans?

Editor’s note: Our thoughts are with all the ranchers who have endured this snow storm and its horrible aftermath.

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