Drought and wildfires cause Nebraska ranchers to sell their herds

Cattle feed has been difficult to find

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Even with recent precipitation, Nebraska remains in a drought, causing cattlemen to make some tough choices about their herds.

Ranchers in Nebraska and nationwide are selling off cattle because the drought and recent wildfires are making feed difficult to find, according to Mel Benjamin, vice president of policy engagement for the Nebraska Cattlemen Association.

“Liquidation happens when you just don’t have the feed for them,” she said. “As cattle people, our No. 1 priority is taking care of those cattle, making sure their nutrition is good. Our No. 2 priority is taking care of the land. So it can’t suffer a lot of overgrazing during a drought and bounce back like we need it to be.”

Ranchers have two other options if they don’t want to liquidate, Benjamin said: Putting the cattle in “a feedlot situation” or moving them to another state.

But with high diesel and grain prices, those would be very costly options.

Normally, liquidating your herd means taking a big loss, but experts predict that won’t be the case right now.

Benjamin said the price for cattle is “holding pretty strongly.”

“You’re still going to take a loss on a breeding animal, but they are stronger than typical,” she said.

The United States typically imports lean beef from overseas, but because of the mass liquidation, grocery shelves will be stocked up with U.S. ground beef.

Benjamin said that’s one reason the price for cattle is holding steady.

“Transportation costs to bring lean beef from other countries that we usually use to make the really lean hamburger that everybody wants in the country is cost-prohibiting right now, so that’s one of the reasons those prices are hanging in there,” said Benjamin.

Beef can be frozen, so there isn’t a worry of it going bad. But using so many cattle for ground beef may cause shortages of other cuts in the future.

“Be prepared in a couple of years because there will be fewer fed cattle, because there is fewer cattle, that the prime steak may be a little harder to find,” Benjamin said.

Nebraska Cattlemen is offering a few webinars to learn more about what to do or be prepared for amid the drought.

“All droughts are different. What you did in the last drought might not make sense in this drought,” Benjamin said. “So we wanted to give folks some information about what is happening in the market, and things that they might want to consider if it continues and if it worsens.”

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