Drought forces ranchers to sell herds to cut losses
TORRINGTON, Wyo. — As a relentless drought bakes prairie soil to dust and dries up streams across the country, ranchers struggling to feed their cattle are unloading them by the thousands, a wrenching decision likely to ripple from the Plains to supermarket shelves over the next year.
Ranchers say they are reducing their herds and selling their cattle months ahead of schedule to avoid the mounting losses from a drought that stretches across a record-breaking 1,016 U.S. counties. Irrigation ponds are shriveling to scummy puddles. Pastures are brown and barren. And they say the prices of hay and other feed are soaring.
So, in the latest pangs of a withering heat wave that has threatened crops and sparked furious wildfires, ranchers are loading up their cattle and driving to towns like Torrington. They come, reluctantly, to sell."They're getting frustrated, and they're at a loss for what to do with their cattle," said Michael Schmitt, an owner of the livestock market. Many cattle producers are selling off less-profitable animals with the hopes of holding on to part of their herd. But the smaller the ranchers, the deeper their troubles.
On this 90-degree July morning, anxious ranchers and poker-faced beef buyers filled the seats around the auction floor, ready to sell 1,700 cattle at a new weekly special: a drought sale.
Because the cattle being sold now are younger and lighter than those fed all summer on prairie grass, ranchers are losing $200 to $400 for each one they are dumping early. That can mean the difference between a year's profit and loss when multiplied out over herds numbering in the hundreds or thousands.
"It's going to take two to three years to recover," said Brit Moen, who was selling 150 black steers. "If this is to go on for another year, it'll put a lot of people out of business.
Black Blade: Enjoy some cheap steaks while you can because come this winter we will probably see livestock prices increase once the culling is finished. I may buy back into COW as prices fall during the culling in anticipation of a sharp rebound this winter and spring.