Co-op News

With Co-op Support, S.D. Heifers Faring Well

By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: March 11th, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The young heifers are doing quite well, thank you.

A truckload of heifers from Virginia travels to a South Dakota feed lot as part of a relief effort for needy ranchers. (Photo Courtesy: Heifers for South Dakota)

A truckload of heifers from Virginia travels to a South Dakota feed lot as part of a relief effort for needy ranchers. (Photo Courtesy: Heifers for South Dakota)

That’s the word from Tom Brunner, whose South Dakota feed lot is the nerve center of a massive volunteer effort to help ranchers get back on their feet after a freak storm decimated herds last October.

“It’s really taken off,” said Brunner, a director at Butte Electric Co-op, Newell, S.D., and the South Dakota Rural Electric Association. “It’s been just a wonderful project to be involved with.”

At a March 2 meeting of the NRECA Board, Brunner showed images of donated cattle branded, tagged and fed with co-op support. The board voted last December to contribute $35,000 to feed cattle at his lot through May.

Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives and the South Dakota Rural Electric Association also have been active in the Heifers for South Dakota project, which is distributing cattle to more than 100 needy families and individual ranchers.

“What I’m doing is providing the labor. You guys are helping to feed them and I can’t say enough about your generosity,” Brunner said during his update to the board.

Montana rancher Ty Linger and his wife Rosalie started Heifers for South Dakota days after the storm killed about 40,000 cattle, devastating ranchers in western South Dakota.

So far, the relief program has brought in about 1,000 cattle, valued at about $2 million. They come from donations across the country—a truckload of about 40 recently made a 2,000-mile trek from Virginia—and take up temporary residence at Brunner’s lot in the community of Nisland.

Tom Brunner

Tom Brunner

There, they are fed and monitored, with an eye toward breeding them this summer. “A year from now, they’ll be calving and we’ll disperse them to needy families,” he said.

The storm struck Oct. 3-5, when most herds were grazing in summer and fall pastures, miles from their protected winter locations. In a matter of days, parts of western South Dakota went from temperatures in the 80s to 58 inches of snow and wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph.

Cattle had yet to grow their heavy winter coats to protect them from the elements. Many froze to death when they got stuck in creek bottoms or crop fields; others became trapped in fence lines or died when upon finding shelter, after a shed roof collapsed on them under the weight of the snow.

An estimated 400 producers lost about 40,000 head of cattle, according to January estimates by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board.

Brunner cited the support of South Dakota Director Mark Hofer, who brought the matter to the NRECA Board’s attention in December. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of our rural electric family for stepping up to the plate like this,” Brunner  said.

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