Farmers Who Raise Cattle Facing a Fraught Question

Shell out the money for feed, or sell?
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2022 1:58 PM CDT
Heat Killed So Many Cattle, They Were Sent to Landfill
Cows peek out of a fence near a highway on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Delta, Utah.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Much has been written about the impact of heat on humans in recent weeks. But for humans who raise cattle, it's a double whammy. CNN describes things at "a boiling point for farmers and ranchers," who are dealing with the extreme drought conditions that are plaguing some four-fifths of the western region of the US. The heat burns the grass that herds would generally consume, hay production is down for the year in many places, and inflation isn't helping. That leaves farmers with two options: purchase feed, or sell the cattle. The latter option is apparently one more and more farmers are resorting to.

"We haven't had this kind of movement of cows to market in a decade, since 2011, which was our last really big drought," says Texas A&M Agricultural Economics professor David Anderson. Jason Banta, a beef cattle specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, shares some simple math, saying the cost of feeding a dry cow is roughly $3.50 to $4 a day. If conditions hold tight, that could translate into a $400 feed-bill per cow over the next 100 days. CNN reports ranchers can get a healthy price now, but the long view may be worrisome. If herd size and breeding cows drop in count, beef prices could swell for consumers over the next two years.

And then there are the cows that don't make it. Reuters reports on documents it obtained that show so many cows died in a June heat wave that the typical processing methods—which see them made into pet food and fertilizer—were overwhelmed. As a result, an estimated 1,850 to 2,000 carcasses reportedly ended up in the Seward County Landfill in Liberal, Kansas, where they were flattened by loader machines to a height of about 8 inches and then mixed with garbage. The undertaking, which took about 3 weeks to complete, had the green light from state officials, though they are looking into alternative options in the event of future die-offs. (More cows stories.)

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