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Spring storms reduce calf crop

NEWELL, S.D. (AP)--Some ranchers reported losing a third of their new calf crop in a string of snowstorms that hit northwest South Dakota.

Three large blizzards in March produced snowfall measured by the foot and high winds.

"The first storm, everybody had time to prepare for it," said Dorothy Snowden, who raises horses west of Newell. "But boy, that three-punch deal in a row, that's what really was hard."

Even after the snow stopped the problems didn't. Mud and snowdrifts kept ranchers from getting to their livestock.

"We've lost more calves than usual this year," said Jeff Smeenk, western area vice president of the state Cattlemen's Association. "It hit us pretty hard."

Smeenk estimated that he lost about 10 percent of the calves on his ranch but considered himself lucky. He said he'd heard of ranchers who had lost 30 percent of their calves.

"You lose 30 percent of your calves, you're talking a lot (of a loss)," said Smeenk. "Anybody West River has had a really tough winter. Everybody's having more losses than usual."

Keith Jensen, Butte/Lawrence County executive director for Farm Service Agency, said he expected average calf losses this spring to be 10 percent above the normal mortality rate of around 2 to 4 percent.

Calves born in such conditions have weakened immune systems and are prone to illness that can prove fatal.

"Folks are having a higher incident of illnesses such as scours and respiratory illness and that sort of thing," said Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, acting state veterinarian. "They are also having a higher than normal death loss. Anytime we have severe winter weather like that, it stresses the immune system and makes it more susceptible to illnesses."

The long-term financial effects of the rough spring won't be known for sure until next fall when the calves go to market. Sick calves don't seem to do as well as a calf that gets off to a good start, said Robert Boylan, who operates a cattle ranch north of Newell.

He expects lower returns in the fall.

"(The loss) is going to be substantial," he said.

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