2021 drought impact on the cattle industry


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — This past July we took you to central South Dakota to visit cattle producers feeling the impact of the drought.

We recently returned to that same area to see if any relief arrived as the summer progressed.

Drought conditions have been a concern for cattle producers all year. They worried about having enough food for the livestock, as well as how strong the market would be.

Some sold off large portions of their herds just to stay in business.

“You’re seeing herds that have been closed herds for 30 years, a lot of AI genetics, stuff of that nature, that are having to come to town with their young cows and that’s really sad to see,” said Bryan Hanson with Ft. Pierre Livestock.

The Koch family operates a fifth-generation ranch outside of New Underwood. They had to sell off a third of their herd due to the dry conditions.

“It was difficult, not something anybody wants to do. You’re selling cattle that you raised and it’s, you know, you raised them from calves up to cows and you have to sell them because you don’t have enough grass and water to have them survive,” said Kevin Koch.

Conditions do not seem to be improving either. They did not get their normal feed supply to prepare them for winter.

“This year we made 195 round bales, two years ago we made 4,000. So fortunately we carried over from two years ago so we didn’t have to buy, but a lot of producers did,” said Koch.

“I guess if anybody’s looking to get in the cattle business why there’s gonna be a lot of these good, young cows moved that are giving someone the opportunity to start with a 30-year production herd starting in one day by coming to a sale because they are darn sure cattle you wouldn’t normally see until they were either open or old enough to be out of production,” said Hanson.

But for some producers in the central part of the state, the drought was not as bad as they feared.

“As the summer went on kind of kept moving and tried to stay off the pasture as best we could to keep things going and I think it seemed to work, we got quite a bit of this late-season rain so that’s really greened everything back up,” said Charles Todd, producer.

Because of late rains, they were able to graze pastures they normally wouldn’t use.

“We’ve had pretty much a complete turnaround, I mean we’ve gone from you know having almost brown grass and pretty short to really lush, pretty green, especially in some of these valleys and some places where we did use them early so they could re-grow and be good,” said Todd.

However, Todd has been hauling water since the beginning of August.

“But it’s one of the things we just live with and work with, we work around and try to do the best we can but it’s definitely been a challenge,” said Todd.

Going into winter, his feed supply is not a major concern. He’ll be able to keep his cattle as long as he normally would.

“We normally wean our calves the first of November if we can and then we try to background all of our calves at least until kind of February, March, try to use up some feed and get them to fit into a different market if we can. I think we are going to stay on that plan this year,” said Todd.

Cattle prices are also being affected this year.

“The price of these feeder cattle is reflective of what they are getting for the fat cattle. So it’s very frustrating because you see the price of the fat cattle at $1.20-$1.25 depending on the day and the week, and at the same time you see record-high prices in the store,” said Hanson. “So people who aren’t familiar with agriculture see the high prices in the store for beef and they think these cattle feeders and these ranchers are getting rich, and just the opposite is true.”

From restaurants to grocery stores and local taxes, the effects of this year’s drought will be felt across the region. But the biggest impact is on farmers and ranchers.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s hard to talk to a lot of these folks that are having to sell their cattle, you know as I said to begin with some of these people have 30 to 40 years of breeding, maybe more than that on some instances but AI genetics and just been building a herd for many many years and then to have mother nature throw the curveball at them where they just can’t afford to pay the high prices for feed to hang on to these cattle,” said Hanson.

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