As drought cuts hay crop, cattle ranchers face culling herds

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — With his cattle ranch threatened by a deepening drought, Jim Stanko isn’t cheered by the approaching storm signaled by the sound of thunder.

“Thunder means lightning and lightning can cause fires,” stated Stanko, who fears he’ll should dump half his herd of about 90 cows in Routt County outdoors of Steamboat Springs, Colorado if he can’t harvest sufficient hay to feed them.

As the drought worsens throughout the West and ushers in an early hearth season, cattle ranchers are amongst these feeling the ache. Their hay yields are down, main some to make the laborious determination to dump animals. To keep away from the excessive price of feed, many ranchers develop hay to nourish their herds by means of the winter when snow blankets the grass they usually graze.

But this 12 months, Stanko’s hay harvest to this point is even worse than it was final 12 months. One area produced simply 10 bales, down from 30 final 12 months, amid warmth waves and traditionally low water ranges within the Yampa River, his irrigation supply.

Some ranchers aren’t ready to cut back the variety of mouths they should feed.

At the Loma Livestock public sale in western Colorado, gross sales had been bustling earlier this month despite the fact that its peak season isn’t normally till the autumn when most calves are able to be offered. Fueling the motion are ranchers desperate to unload cattle whereas costs are nonetheless robust.

“Everybody is gonna be selling their cows, so it’s probably smarter now to do it while the price is up before the market gets flooded,” stated Buzz Bates, a rancher from Moab, Utah who was promoting 209 cow-calf pairs, or about 30 p.c of his herd.

Bates determined to trim his herd after a fireplace set off by an deserted campfire destroyed a part of his pasture, curbing his capacity to feed them.

Weather has lengthy factored into how ranchers handle their livestock and land, however these selections have more and more centered round how herds can maintain drought circumstances, stated Kaitlynn Glover, government director of pure assets on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Cattle are sold at an auction at Loma Livestock, Monday, July 12, 2021, in Loma, Colo. Summer sales at the facility are bustling, even though the peak buying season isn't usually until fall, as some ranchers facing hay shortages and a severe drought are eager to unload cattle while prices are still strong.
Cattle are offered at an public sale at Loma Livestock, Monday, July 12, 2021, in Loma, Colo. Summer gross sales on the facility are bustling, despite the fact that the height shopping for season isn’t normally till fall, as some ranchers dealing with hay shortages and a extreme drought are desperate to unload cattle whereas costs are nonetheless robust.
AP Photo/Brittany Peterson

“If it rained four inches, there wouldn’t be a cow to sell for five months,” stated George Raftopoulos, proprietor of the public sale home.

Raftopoulos says he encourages folks to assume twice earlier than parting with their cows. Having to interchange them afterward may cost greater than paying for added hay, he stated.

Culling herds will be an operational blow for cattle ranchers. It typically means parting with cows chosen for genetic traits which might be optimum for breeding and are seen as long-term investments that pay dividends.

Jo Stanko, Jim’s spouse and enterprise associate, famous her cows had been bred for his or her capacity to deal with the area’s temperature swings.

“We live in a very specialized place,” she stated. “We need cattle that can do high and low temperatures in the same day.”

Fourth-generation cattle rancher Pat Stanko loads rounds of hay onto a trailer, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, on his ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Fourth-generation cattle rancher Pat Stanko hundreds rounds of hay onto a trailer, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, on his ranch close to Steamboat Springs, Colo.
AP Photo/Brittany Peterson

As the Stankos put together to shrink their herd, they’re contemplating new traces of labor to complement their ranching revenue. One possibility on the desk: providing searching and fishing entry or winter sleigh rides on their land.

The couple will know what number of extra cattle they’ll must promote as soon as they’re accomplished storing hay in early September. They hope to cull simply 10, however worry it may very well be as many as half the herd, or round 45 head.

Already, the household offered 21 head final 12 months after a disappointing hay harvest. This 12 months, the crop is even worse.

“With the heat, it’s burning up. I can’t cut it fast enough,” Jim Stanko stated of the hay crop.

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