Ranchers cull cattle as drought shrivels crops

Reuters / U.S. ranchers are rushing to sell off some of their cattle as the worst drought in nearly 25 years dries up pastures and thins hay supplies.

The more desperate in the Midwest are hauling water into areas where creeks have run dry and are scrambling to secure scarce and high-priced hay to keep their cattle fed and watered.

But some are giving up, or are about to.

The drought follows another one last year, which helped to shrink the U.S. herd to about 91 million head, the smallest in about 60 years.

“The blasted heat… and no rain. The drought is really drying the pastures and stuff up,” said Larry McCarty, who sold off more than a quarter of his 900-head cattle herd last Thursday.

He got $100 per head less than he did a month ago as the high cost of feed has spooked away potential buyers.

McCarty’s cattle were part of an auction that sold more than 500 head on Thursday in Centerville, Iowa, at the Appanoose County Livestock sale barn, said owner Clarence Ballanger.

He says there was no sign of any large-scale liquidation of cattle yet but that could change if rain does not arrive in time to save the corn crop.

“What will happen here if it does not rainwe’ll probably have some big runs,” said Ballanger.

There has been a big jump in the number of cows slaughtered in the United States. In the week ending June 30, 52,700 cows were slaughtered, three per cent more than a year ago during the peak of the Plains drought, USDA data showed.

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