One month ago, we shared how ranchers were waiting for their pastures to green up to turn the cattle out.
Now, we’re sharing the tough decision these men and women have to make.
“Our situation is getting pretty dire and ugly,” said David Bohl.
North Dakota has been in a drought since May 2020.
Right now, 77 percent of the state is in an extreme drought and 18 percent is in an exceptional drought.
For the last year, ranchers have hoped for any moisture they can get to green up their pastures — but it hasn’t come.
And that means ranchers are being forced to sell their cattle.
“Normally this time of the year, we’re probably looking at 400-600 head and a lot of times would be every other week,” said former auctioneer Ron Torgerson.
On Sunday and Monday, more than 4,200 head of cattle were sold at Rugby Livestock and Auction.
“For this time of the year, by far, we’ve had normal sales in the winter during the height of marketing season where we’ve had 5,000 it’s not totally unheard of except for June,” said Torgerson.
As the drought continues, the price of hay and corn has gone way up. It’s more expensive for ranchers to try and supplement feed than it is to sell the cattle.
Bohl has already sold 200 of his head in the last month.
“Everybody is in the same situation, they’re going to have to sell probably 25 to 50% of them because there’s nowhere to go with them we just got no food to feed them,” Bohl said.
It’s devastating for ranchers who’re receiving about $1.60 per pound instead of $2 during good times.
And the cycle may not end for a while.
“A lot of the calves aren’t growing like they should because they’re not on grass and the cows don’t have as much milk so if you don’t feed them good feed the cows are going to get any milk,” Bohl said.
Looking ahead, if the drought continues, there won’t be anything to feed the cows during winter — which would force them to make a more drastic move.
“Six months from now, if we have to sell all our cattle there’s going to be a lot of ranchers that won’t be back ranching again. They are just going to be either broke or older people will just retire and there will be a lot less people that are ranching,” Bohl said.
While ranchers are losing money now, they say it’s consumers who will be losing in the long run as they’ll be forced to pay higher prices at the grocery store.
“They are talking about the packing plants and their profit margin compared to what the rancher is getting paid for and what the consumer spending across the counter there’s something wrong. Go look at the meat counter. Ribeye steaks are at $16 a pound and the rancher is getting $700-800 for his calves so something is not fair,” said Torgerson.
Buyers traveled all the way from South Dakota and Idaho to buy the calves and cattle.