Depressing news. Ten of thousands of livestock in Western South Dakota were killed by an early storm, Atlas.
Moose populations are crashing big time.
The common thread is Climate Destabilization via wild weather, calving no longer coinciding with the most nutritious plant growth, and mild parasite-friendly winters.
The reason the cattle deaths in South Dakota hit me so hard is that I see it as an allegory for what we face in Climate Destabilization.
A blizzard isn't unusual in South Dakota, the cattle are tough and can handle some snow. They have for hundreds of years.
Unlike on our dairy farm in Wisconsin, beef cattle don't live in climate controlled barns. Beef cows and calves spend the majority of their lives out on pasture. They graze the grass in the spring, summer and fall and eat baled hay in the winter.
In winter these cows and calves grow fuzzy jackets that keep them warm and protect them from the snow and cold. The cows and calves live in special pastures in the winter. These pastures are smaller and closer to the ranch, and they have windbreaks for the cows to hide behind. They have worked for cows for hundred of years.
So what's the big deal about this blizzard?
It's not really winter yet.
The cows don't have their warm jackets on. The cows are still out eating grass in the big pastures. Atlas wasn't just a snowstorm, it was the kind of storm that can destroy the ranchers that have been caring for these cattle for hundreds of years.
Last weekend Atlas hit. It started with rain. The rain soaked the cows and chilled them to the bone. Inches and inches of rain fell. The rain made horrible mud. Then the winds started – 80mph winds, hurricane force. When the wind started, the rain changed to snow. A lot of snow. The cows were wet, muddy and they didn't have their winter jackets when the wind and snow came. Wet snow. Heavy snow.
The cows tried to protect themselves. They hid in low spots away from the wind. The low spots where the rain had turned the ground to thick mud. Some got stuck in the mud. Some laid down to get away from the wind, to rest a little, they were tired from trying to get away from the weather when they were already so cold.
The snow came down so heavy and so fast the the low spots that the cattle were laying in filled with snow. Not a few inches of snow, not a foot of snow. Enough snow that the cows and their calves were covered in snow.
The cows and calves suffocated or froze to death.
The caretakers of these cattle had no power to save them.
Cattle ranching in South Dakota is set up for what used to be South Dakota climate. Wild weather from Climate Destabilization exceeded the formerly normal parameters with horrible consequences. To me the story of Atlas and South Dakota livestock is a foreshadow of our story on planet Earth. All of our infrastructure, our institutions, and our cultural practices are based on climate as it used to be. It's just like the recent Colorado floods, with entire communities and their supporting infrastructure washed away in a few days,
and the North India floods in June.
THE PARAMETERS HAVE CHANGED, people. We don't live on Earth any more, we've made Eaarth, which is devastating to moose, cows and everything else but jellyfish.
Powerfully written! Full of evocative images. One can feel the suffering of cattle and wildlife and ranchers.
I agree, Joan. The description of the suffering cattle made me depressed all day. It really gets to you.
I wonder if there are some preventive protection ranchers can devise that would protect cattle in the event of such storm disasters as this one? I know the cost is always a factor in farming and ranching, but the cost of lost livestock can wipe out a rancher, just as a freak storm can wipe out a crop. You are quite correct, Ruth,
"it as an allegory for what we face in Climate Destabilization". "All of our infrastructure, our institutions, and our cultural practices are based on climate as it used to be. It's just like the recent Colorado floods, with entire communities and their supporting infrastructure washed away in a few days."
Risk rises on all shorelines, on alluvial plains and watersheds. A new normal will not come easily. Preparing for such events will be expensive, time consuming and work intensive.