‘They’re going to have to sell a lot of their livelihood’

KELOLAND.com Original

FT. PIERRE, S.D. (KELO)– Drought is not something new to livestock producers.

Willie Cowan, a member of Ft. Pierre Livestock and a rancher north of Pierre was born in 1937 and got to experience a little bit of the “Dirty Thirties”, but remembers the drought of 1976 the best.

“76 was terrible dry and here we had to go to Nebraska with cattle, we wouldn’t ever do that again, we will sell them before that,” Cowan said.

During that drought, the cattle prices were very low, “we didn’t dare sell them,” Cowan said.

“In ’76 it broke a lot of people,” he said.

A lot of the ranch women had to go into town to get jobs to keep the ranch going in 1976, Cowan said.

“Now, I don’t know what they will do, to be right truthful,” he said. “They are going to have to sell a lot of their livelihood…that hurts, it hurts bad. We just hope that everybody will keep their chin up and do the best they can with what they got.”

This year’s drought does come with it’s own set of challenges. Cowan’s yearling cattle operation is worried about the grasslands this year.

“Hopefully we can keep them to where we wanted to in August and September, but the way it looks like, we might have to sell them whenever we run out of grass,” he said.

“All of us, we hope for next year, that’s what we live for,” Cowan said. “It could rain the next hour and we’d be alright.”

In order to keep the cattle until a normal sale time, they are going to need adequate feed, he said. With the cost of feed being so high right now, there is no way in the world they can haul it in.

“There is people that are talking about selling them that no way in the world would they otherwise sell their cattle,” Cowan said.

They have tried to buy the feed before, but if it doesn’t rain the next spring, they are in even more trouble than they were before, he said.

“South Dakota people are pretty tough,” Cowan said. “Someway or another, they’ll survive.”

With his work at Ft. Pierre Livestock, Cowan gets to see a lot and “get to maybe be part of their family almost” and they really get to understand what the families are going through.

At Ft. Pierre Livestock, they try to help ranch families as much as possible, but they can’t make the final decisions for them, Cowman said.

“It’s kind of like this, you got to do the best you can with what you got and I guess if you’ve got your health and your family they can take it all away from you and they can’t hurt you,” he said.


Bryan Hanson, co-owner of Ft. Pierre Livestock and rancher, said that due to the drought, the livestock market has been unusually busy.

“There’s been way more cattle moved than you would normally see this time of year,” Hanson said.

The hay supply is very tight and the pastures have pretty much dried up and it looks like fall in most places, he said.

Producers not only have to market their cattle at an unusual time, they are also dealing with a depressed cattle market in comparison to where the beef is, Hanson said. The feeder cattle market is strong than it was a few weeks ago, but over-the-counter meat price that consumers are paying has high all-time highs, while feed cattle prices are about where they were ten years ago.

Four to five years ago the cattle markets were extremely competitive, but it was also at a time where there was country of origin labeling, Hanson said. They are trying to get congress to put country of origin back in to provide competition for U.S. cattle. At that time, feeder cattle were bringing 50 percent to maybe 80 percent more than they are now.

Cow/calf pairs are being sold at or below what the bred cattle were bringing around four months ago, he said.

“We are a long ways behind the market of not very long ago and that’s mostly in part to the fact that that’s when they appeal country of origin labeling,” Hanson said.

There is a lot of top-of-the-line livestock for sale that would never be for sale in a normal year until they were old enough to be out of production, he said.

“There is some pretty good opportunity for people to come and purchase some really nice top-of-the-line livestock and not have to pay an arm and a leg for it, these prices have sure been pretty soft,” Hanson said.

They have been seeing record numbers of cattle sales for this time of the year.

“Nobody wants to market cattle this time of year, it’s a forced sale,” Hanson said.

As the drought gets more intense and widespread, they expect to see more people coming to sell, he said. The producers generally won’t sell until they absolutely have to.

They have seen a lot of buyers coming from outside of the area, Hanson said. They also utilize internet livestock sales.

“If anybody in a wet area is watching this, why come and see us in central South Dakota, we’ve got a lot of good stock to offer,” Hanson said.

If you are experiencing drought conditions in your area, please send your drought photos to aschumacher@keloland.com.

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