Northern Plains Dryness Forcing Cattle Producers to Sell Herds

Dryness is intensifying in the northern Plains, and cattlemen and grain markets are responding.

The latest drought monitor shows the drought in North Dakota and parts of neighboring states is getting worse by the day. The entire state is at some level of drought, but the big changes are seen in the individual categories.

74 percent is in moderate drought compared to 25 percent one week ago, and 14 percent is now rated as severe drought when last week it was zero.

Many North Dakota ranchers who recently turned their cows and calves out to pasture are selling off sections of their herds. Producers are fearful there won’t be enough grass to get livestock through a long, hot summer.

Livestock producers have been waiting for rain are running out of options, so they’re delivering cattle to auction markets.

“The panic mode has started,” said Jerry Kist, owner of Kist Livestock Auction. “The reality that this could get serious is here.”

He says his auction market is adding an extra sale each week to handle the drastic increase in the number of cattle being sold.

John Mertz, a rancher from Sheridan County, has sold 200 steers and says his heifers are going to be next. He says he hasn’t seen drought conditions this bad in 30 years.

“I was through the drought in ’87 and ’88, and it seems like it was a lot worse this year,” said Mertz.

Producers are getting rid of a lot of marginal livestock, but they aren’t auction off the heart of their herds yet.

“We’re selling the older cows and trying to save the younger ones, and I’m weaning the calves and keeping them because they don’t eat as much as a cow,” said Kevin Axt, a rancher from Wells County.

He says he’s already lost 50 percent of his pasture—the grass never grew because of dryness. If the rain doesn’t fall soon, Axt is fearful he will have to sell more of his herd.

“Nobody has dug into the heart of their herd, you just have to have hope,” said Kist. 

 

Latest News

Winter cattle feeding
Cash Cattle Weaker As Grain Rallies

Cash cattle prices slipped lower throughout the week as packer demand was called moderate. Grain markets posted a significant rally on the heels of USDA's report on Tuesday.

2 hours ago
Packing plant workers
Fired Tyson Managers: ‘Betting Pool’ Stories Distorted

Former Tyson Foods Waterloo, Iowa, plant managers dispute claims of how an "office pool" regarding COVID-19 was portrayed in news stories and deny it was about how many employees would contract the virus.

1 hour ago
Dream Lake with Hallett Peak in the background, at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Hi-Plains Researchers To Help Protect Rocky Mountain National Park

A Texas A&M AgriLife team will work with the Colorado Livestock Association and other stakeholders to refine and evaluate practices to reduce agricultural ammonia emissions into Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

12 min ago
AL Ranch
Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. Launches “MBA NextGen”

MBA NextGen updates the popular MBA training modules making it easier than ever for a new generation of farmers and ranchers to share their story and advocate knowledgeably for the beef industry.

8 min ago
Greg Henderson
Overall Meat Sales Higher In 2020

Meat sales - both dollar values and volume - were significantly higher in 2020. Those gains, however, came at the expense of a crippled restaurant and food service industry that may take years to recover.

9 min ago
Progressive Beef
Progressive Beef and Wendy’s® Advance Partnership

Wendy's announces 15% increase in percentage of beef sourced through Progressive Beef-certified producers in 2020; on track to meet goal of at least 50% this year.

14 min ago