SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The California drought has forced cattle ranchers, who rely heavily on rain to grow grass in their fields, to sell most of their cattle to out-of-state dealers.
The only thing that gold and hay used to share was their color. But this year’s drought has both very valuable—the price of hay has doubled, forcing ranchers to take drastic measures just to stay in business.
“We have had to reduce our livestock by 90 percent because of a lack of food,” said Stan Van Vleck with Van Vleck Ranch.
The cattle rancher says he was forced to sell more than 1,000 cows in February, because so little rain had fallen. Without it, the fields didn’t grow.
“It irrigates all the lands that are naturally irrigated by pumps or other ways,” he said. “And so when we didn’t have rain through most this year, for us there was no feed.”
They had two choices: Buy hay that has nearly doubled in price to $230 a ton, or sell the cows.
“When we did the calculations on why it would cost, it would cost is two times more than we would ever receive when we sell them for market,” he said.
But the problem isn’t over. Several hundred cows still graze on the ranch, and the family lake that offers drinking water for the animals is down to 15 percent of normal.
Van Vleck is pleading with lawmakers to do something about it.
“If we did have storage of water, reservoirs and the ability to move water better we could take care of this issue,” he said.
He adds with more water storage, more of it could be saved for drought years like this. That would mean fewer ranchers would have to sell off their cattle to make ends meet.
These drastic swings also affect meat prices, because ranchers need to sell the cattle at higher prices to cover the cost spikes for hay.