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Cattle sales pick up in North Dakota in extreme drought

July 19, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — With nearly half the cattle in North Dakota in extreme drought locations, ranchers are making some tough decisions on thinning their herds.

At Kist Livestock Auction in Mandan, weekly sales are up by 1,000 head over a normal year, an increase of one-third.

Some cattle stay in the state, said Matt Lachenmeier, the auction barn’s field representative. But, there’s demand for cattle in nearby states as well, including Minnesota.

“Now we’re starting to run out of homes for them,” he said. “There’s a lot of cattle moving.”

Lachenmeier said ranchers are selling replacement heifers or older cows first and trying to hang on to younger cows. He said it’s hard to lose animals that have been part of a long-term breeding program, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

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“That’s been their life and their livelihood,” he said. “Selling feeder cattle is easy. You don’t fall in love with them.”

The span from October 2020 to March 2021 is the driest on record, said Janna Block, extension livestock systems specialist at North Dakota State University’s Hettinger research center.

“We came into spring with no soil moisture,” she said. “Things haven’t picked up.”

It’s almost impossible to buy cattle back for the same price, Block said. Some more productive cows are worth more than their sale price.

The rancher loses the genetics along with the time and effort it took to build the herd. There could be income tax implications too, and other financial issues still exist after the sale.

“They still have their fixed costs but fewer cattle,” Block said.