Uncertainty and tough decisions continue for North Dakota Ranchers

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 9:34 PM CDT
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MCKENZIE COUNTY, N.D. - It’s been a rough year for ranchers across North Dakota. With no end to the drought in sight, food supplies are expected to be much shorter than in previous years. That could lead ranchers to sell more livestock than normal to keep up their supply.

“Like our feedlot here, we normally have 900 head, and we might not have hardly any; maybe a few replacement heifers and it might be too expensive to even feed them,” says McKenzie County rancher CJ Thorne.

An uncertain road lies ahead for ranchers like CJ Thorne, and other producers are also forced to figure out how much cattle they can feed. They are doing everything they can to prepare as there is a good chance they will need to start feeding earlier than normal.

“We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls about harvesting barley, wheat, and anything possible just to create some extra forage so that they can feed livestock early,” says McKenzie County Extension Agent Devan Leo.

Extreme heat, dry conditions, and grasshoppers have stunted growth for many crops in the region. Thorne says he believes it won’t be cost-effective to feed his own cattle versus sending them elsewhere.

“We have some options, but just to do the same thing we’ve been doing every year this year is not [going to work]. Everything is up in the air; [you] try to figure it out as you go,” says Thorne.

Water quality and well repair will also be big question marks going forward. Thorne says parts to replace broken pieces are getting harder to come by. In order to build some storage, Thorne says he is thinking of using a fracking tank and that he’s not the only one pondering the idea.

Leo says rain and some light snow later this year are desperately needed to help create greener pastures for grazing cattle.

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