Spring in South Dakota

“We calve on the range and are sure getting tired of the weather,”…South Dakota rancher Larry Stomprud summed up the latest seasons which have been affecting many South Dakota farmers and ranchers. Stomprud, of Mud Butte, who is also the immediate past-president of South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, said ranchers have been dealing with a double whammy from this past late winter Arctic blast that challenged young calves and depleted the hay piles that cattle need to eat.

The big struggles have been mud, slow growing pastures, and death losses in calves due to mud or chilling snow and rain. “Fortunately, we’ve not experienced any health issues. After three blizzards within ten days in 2009, we made some changes that have addressed the problem of late winter or spring adverse weather,” Stomprud told LivestockWx.com. “We’re turning bulls out later than we used to. We also built several five to 10-acre ‘traps’ in our pastures to keep heavies confined during adverse weather events so we can watch them easier, and we installed windbreaks. Even with all that, we made the choice to bring all our heavies into our corrals during this last blizzard. It was a mess, but we didn’t lose any calves during that storm.”

90-Day Temperature Departures

90-Day % of Avg. Precipitation

Another South Dakota cattleman, Eric Jennings who ranches near Spearfish, S.D., said after two consecutive years calving in extreme winter conditions, several cattlemen and women are dealing with some sickness in calves, including scours and pneumonia.

“It’s been very similar to last year’s blizzard. Although snowstorms have been one to three day deals..I personally have not had any losses with the storms although I have talked to several ranchers who told me – the storms have been severe enough that cattle crowded into shelters…and some calves ended up with broken legs. One calf was injured in its middle. A few died,” said Jennings, also Vice President of South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.

On top of February’s grueling  -56 degree wind chills, South Dakota has recently been dealing with flooding from the James River.   As eastern South Dakota is very flat, there’s been standing water in fields.

“We’ve had a lot of rain since the snow melted.  During early May, from west to east brought two to three inches of rain from Wall, South Dakota to Brookings.  No question; it was a really difficult calving season,” said Laura Edwards; South Dakota State University Extension State Climatologist.

Early cold weather beginning in January required producers to feed cows more hay and feed to help livestock through negative temperature degree days.  “Even with the extra feed, many cows didn’t come out of the winter in as good of body condition as we’d like them to be going into calving. This snowballed into more calving issues than normal; decreased colostrum quality due to thinner cows and calves not getting as much nutrition in their first hours of life as we’d like to see,” said Taylor Grussing, M.S., PAS, Cow/Calf Field Specialist at Mitchell Regional Extension Center; Mitchell, South Dakota.

Besides losing calves in the cold, death losses have also resulted more recently from the mud and rain.  “In fact,” Grussing relayed, “I heard just recently, of a producer losing three cows in the mud, and with that happening – we know that we’re losing calves too.  Also, with a late spring and delayed planting, many producers are still feeding cows as they wait to go to grass. That’s further decreasing the hay supplies.”

At least with excess moisture, South Dakota ranchers hope to have plenty of grass to graze when their livestock does get to pasture. Grussing also recommends: “Continue communicating with your management team of other ranchers, financial advisers, veterinarians, nutritionist. Remember you aren’t alone in this.”  She suggests monitoring for potential pneumonia cases or other chronic issues with livestock challenged by El Niño’s fierce later winter.

For cattle ranchers who need assistance, the livestock indemnity program has business management specialists within Extension and FSA.   “This program saved many livestock producers last year, and I expect it to do the same for some cattlemen, depending on which or how many snow or rain storms they got hit with in 2019 so far. We recommend taking pictures and documenting every death loss so ranchers have records if they decide to turn in losses,” said Grussing.  She also suggests communicating with a veterinarian who can stop by the ranch and review health protocols and assist with health documentation.

Photo credit:  Larry Stomprud: Calves from two-year old heifers.  Midnight, March 13, 2019. 

Photo credit:  Larry Stomprud: Featured image: After the March 2019 blizzard.

From the Wyoming border to near Chamberlain, looks like five to 15 percent above average in forage production for the season

Further challenging South Dakota farmers… uncompromising winter and spring weather has led to very little crop progress.  As of the May 20th National Corn Growers Association update, South Dakota planted corn had reached 19-percent; an improvement from the four-percent total during the previous week.

“In fact, I think most farmers here in South Dakota are a couple weeks (more in some cases) behind their typical field operations for this time of year.  In a few areas, there might be slight progress between rains, but for most, little to no fieldwork has occurred,” said Sara Bauder,  Agronomy Field Specialist; South Dakota State University Extension in Mitchell, S.D.

Additionally, soil temperatures were slow to warm up this year and didn’t reach the recommended 50 degree average (over several days) for corn, until recently, due in part to high soil moisture and air temperature.  “It takes more energy to warm up wet soils, so it isn’t surprising that in combination with cool air temps, it’s taken more time than we typically expect,” noted Bauder. “Many intended small grains will likely not get planted, due to the season getting later and later, passing recommended planting dates and insurance deadlines.”

Thankfully, there’s good news for forage.  From the Wyoming border to near Chamberlain, looks like five to 15 percent above average in forage production for the season,” observed Edwards.  And, there’s still opportunity to plant most forage producing warm season crops with little issue, as farmers work to gain tonnage and moisture, and don’t need to take them to grain.

“Corn silage is a popular forage for feedlot cattle in the area, and even if June planting dates get pushed back, corn planted for forage is still a feasible option,” said Bauder.  “But it depends on the rest of the growing season. If farmers are pushed way back or take preventive planting insurance, they can still plant grazing mixtures or forage for hay in most cases.  However, they can’t graze or hay until after Nov. 1 if they take ‘prevent plant’ and want a 100-percent payout,” advised Bauder.  “Before changing plans, producers should check with their crop insurance agent and take all deadlines into account and plan their forage choice accordingly.”

Soybean planting had finally started and was at four-percent, as of the May 20th report.  Spring wheat is reported 70-percent planted but is behind the 92-percent total from last year. Oats are 61-percent planted, which is up from the 37-percent amount during the previous week…but behind the 90-percent rate reported last year.

Cool, wet conditions aren’t favorable for drying out in the field.  “We haven’t seen flooding like this in years.  River flooding is receding slowly, and a lot of fields are still saturated through their soil profile,” said Edwards. “We have several weather stations showing that many are saturated – down about 40 inches into the ground.”

At least there’s no drought in the state right now.  As Edwards summed up, “No one is talking drought.”

For more information:


 (a relatively recent rangeland grazing forecast system comparing precipitation forecasts to expected vegetation in the northern Great Plains.)


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Amy G. Hadachek

Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm and cow-calf operation with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be contacted at: [email protected]