The continuing drought is hitting some Montana cattle producers hard.
“We need a big gully washer to, you know, rejuvenate some of this drinking water situation,” said Ryan Perry, manager of Western Livestock Auction.
The auction yard is seeing a trend of producers bringing spring-born calves to market early due to the lack of drinking water.
“We have seen improvements this year, but last year’s drought was so bad that even with an improvement this year, we don’t have the surplus moisture needed to regenerate those creeks, streams, rivers, underground water surplus. It’s just not there,” said Jason Laird of the Montana Wheat & Barley Committee.
Perry explained: “Ranchers generally sell them in October to come in 30 days early. You know, that could take $100 off a calf that they’re selling. So now, instead of selling a hundred steer calves at seven they’re selling 100 steer calves at six. So that’s 10,000 pounds less, you know on $2 calves, that’s $20,000 dollars.”
The beef industry relies on heavier weights from herds to create a high yield on product.
Weather isn’t the only issue facing producers. The cost of hay and cake also strains their wallet.
Cody Dirkson is the Feed Department Manager at Mountain View Co-Op in Great Falls. She said in terms of cake supplement for cattle: “Close to $100 a ton higher than we have been last year and the year before. So we’ve seen a $200 increase approximately from three years ago till today.”
She added they have had to limit how many bales of alfalfa/grass mix bales they will sell to a customer.
According to Dirkson, Mountain View Co-Op sells 950-pound alfalfa/grass mix, and in two years one bale increased from $99 to $150 per bale in 2020.
For some producers, supplementing hay for cake pellets is a better option and provides necessary nutrients to cattle.
For bulk Ranger 16, what Dirkson says is the highest quality and most affordable cake for ranchers, one ton of large pellets in 2019 cost $265 per ton and it has increased to $365 per ton in 2022. She also added when buying pellet supplements distribution of the pellets would need to happen every other day, along with labor. More unnecessary cost for producers if better rainfall would’ve helped with the hay crop and pastureland.
"It puts a huge strain on producers," Dirkson said. "That’s something that they weren’t budgeting for.”
Mike Ivey, operator of Ivey Ranch, said that because of the drought producers have had to cull more often than they would like, adding that it’s been a hard time the past two years in terms of drinking water.
“Mother Nature just needs to open up the clouds and we need to get some rain,” he said.