The 2,000-mile band of wintry weather that swept across the country this week did more than shut down highways, cancel flights and dump unseemly amounts of snow. For Midwestern ranchers, it threatened their livelihood -- cattle.

That's why the U.S. Department of Agriculture is urging farmers to catalogue any livestock that may have died from the storm so they can qualify for millions in federal aid. The assistance covers everything from dead cows to chickens to elk. The department warned this week that the season was shaping up to be a "tough winter" for heartland farmers and that they should apply for government help if they need it.

"We are just trying to get ahead of that curve and let the farmers and ranchers know that they need to start ... documenting their losses," USDA spokesman Kent Politsch told FoxNews.com.

Neither the USDA nor the beef industry could provide estimates on what kind of damage the weather has done to livestock.

"We are just anticipating," Politsch said.

Under the disaster assistance programs, farmers and ranchers are eligible for federal payments for livestock deaths attributable to severe weather. The payments range from less than one dollar for a dead duckling to nearly $1,000 for a dead dairy bull.

For a program known as the Livestock Indemnity Program, farmers have to notify their local USDA Farm Service Agency office within 30 days of noticing an animal has died from weather related causes in order to be eligible for compensation.