Drought causes Western cattle farmers to sell animals


(NewsNation) — More and more cattle ranchers are selling their cattle as a result of the ongoing extreme drought conditions in the West.

With places like California in their third year of drought, conditions are so dry, and reservoirs so low, that landowners and irrigation districts have to give up large amounts of water, according to CapRadio. About 80% of the Western region is under a heat wave causing drought conditions, the America Farm Bureau Federation said.

Ranchers this year have had to sell their cow herds at a pace “not seen in a decade” because of this, the New York Post reported. Analysts the newspaper talked to said this could actually cut beef prices in the near future — but costs could be higher next year.

Josh Davy, a cattle farmer in Tehama County, California, said he and others who divert irrigation water out of the Sacramento River. But the drought caused officials to halt these diversions, the Associated Press wrote.

“So crops aren’t getting planted, and in my case, we’re selling cows,” Davy said. “We’re seeing the ramifications in terms of wildlife loss, dead trees, fire danger and even wells that are going dry.”

Reservoirs have been depleted for “back-to-back years,” Davy said, with more demands on them than they were originally designed for.

“There’s no water left for us in agriculture and the natural resource areas that go around us,” Davy said.

This causes a dilemma for cattle farmers, as the animals aren’t an annual crop, Davy said — “You can’t put them on the shelf, and we have to have feed for them.”

Davy banked everything on having water available for his cows when he first bought his property. Now that it’s no longer there, it’s affecting him financially and personally.

“I’ve sold a genetic base that I’ve worked years to build, sold my friends,” he said.

An ongoing drought has left pastures in the West extremely dry.

Cows in the beef business are not supposed to go on the market, but instead live 10 to 15 years on the ranch. After selling his animals, Davy said, it will likely take him years to recover. As for what happens to his cattle being sold, “Unfortunately, they’ll turn into hamburger” because of the current market, he said.

“There’s going to be a lot of folks that actually will lose out on this. And that’s a big fear,” he said. “When you have losses like this, you fear losing ranches, which can cause places to either outright sell or to sell parts of them and once we lose range lands and pasture lands to blacktop, that never comes back.”

For now, Davy said, he’s going to try to stick it out this year, but he’s not sure he has another one left without irrigation water.

“I am going to try this year and be optimistic and replant this fall and get ready for next year,” Davy said.

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