RAPID CITY, South Dakota — A 50-year-old South Dakota man who lost nearly one-third of his cattle to a surprise October storm fought back tears as he talked about livestock donations that he and other ranchers have received in recent weeks.
"This is a very humbling gift. It's a blessing," said Brian Flatmoe, of Meadow. "People have been so generous, it's mind boggling."
More than 450 bred cattle and 150 heifer calves have been donated to South Dakota ranchers who lost livestock in the rare blizzard, the Rapid Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1bZcQkW ). The cows have come from at least 10 states and 300 donors.
The response to the Heifers for South Dakota project has been "absolutely incredible," said Miles City, Montana, rancher Ty Linger, who spearheaded the giveaway.
"It has just been so incredible the volume of people who have volunteered to help and no one is asking for a single penny," Linger said.
South Dakota livestock officials have reported losses of more than 20,000 cows and calves, nearly 1,400 sheep, 299 horses, 40 bison and one goat.
Justine and Megan Long, of Red Owl, lost half of their heard they had spent seven years building. They took home a group of donated heifers last week.
"It was like hanging from a cliff without a foothold," Megan Long, 28, told Heifers for South Dakota organizers. "Heifers for South Dakota came along and you gave us a foothold now."
Renetta Phillipi drove 90 miles from Hammond, Montana, to deliver a bred-heifer to Tom Brunner's feed yards near Nisland, where the cattle have been sorted. Phillipi and her husband, Lester, lost 130 calves and 34 cows in a 2009 blizzard. Donating a heifer to a South Dakota rancher was a way to "pay it forward," she said.
"We know what it's like. We don't want anyone to quit because of this," Phillipi said.
The effort is being regulated by the South Dakota Brand Board. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard's office is collaborating with the board, the state Department of Agriculture and the Livestock Industry Board to cover the costs.
At least four pieces of paper accompanied each animal. The cattle were brand and health inspected before leaving and after arriving in South Dakota on Thursday and Friday. A final inspection was made before the cattle left Nisland.
Brand inspectors and veterinarians donated their time, Linger said. Several cattle recipients took cattle home, only to return the next day to help sort and load cattle going to others.
"It's a wonderful, wonderful thing that is happening," said Sherri Cass, program assistant with the North Central Resource, Conversation and Development District in Pierre which is donating its staff time to help with paperwork. "There are some awesome people out there."
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com