(CBS News) It was alast week -- up to four feet near Deadwood. That snow had a devastating effect on cattle ranches with the state's major industry has taken a massive hit.
The dead cattle littering the South Dakota prairie are victims of last week's freak fall blizzard. Tens of thousands were killed.
"A lot of guys were losing everything -- cows, calves, you name it," said rancher Monty Williams.
Many of the dead animals were found huddled in groups. Others were burried in snowbanks along a 100-mile swath of the storm's path. It's catastrophic for ranchers, said South Dakota Farmers Union director Karla Hofhenke.
'"By losing this year's calf crop, that's this year's paycheck for them. By losing the cows themselves, they've lost paychecks for years to come," she said.
The early autumn blizzard dumped up to four feet of snow in two days. It hit before the cattle had developed thick winter coats, and many may have died of hypothermia.
This disaster comes as many South Dakota ranchers were still recovering from last year's severe drought. Things had been looking up, said livestock owner Scott Vance.
"Finally we had the people that had the cattle, had the market, they had the weights," he said. "The dollars were there, they were going to start to retain and rebuild, and that's just all gone."
Cattle owner Justin Tupper said the timing couldn't be worse. "The ranching industry in general brings in most of the business to these towns. This is when we should be selling calves off the cows and our busiest time."
It could also be tough for consumers. The livestock loss could mean higher beef prices.