By Rachel Wulff

ESPARTO (CBS13) – Two droughts in the last decade mean a rough ride for ranchers who are selling off cows to survive.

The cost of meat is sky high during COVID but that money is being spent on the supply chain in the form of labor at meatpacking plants. It’s not trickling down to meat producers. But now the drought is drying up animal feed.

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Casey Stone and his family operate Yolo Land and Cattle Company in the hills of Esparto. They run more than 600 cows and calves and manage 7,500 acres. Two droughts in the last 10 years and multiple wildfires are hitting hard.

Stone is about to sell off 30 to 40 percent of his herd.

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“You’re keeping the factory that produces that income year after year, and if you have to sell your cow herd, you can’t just replace that factory,” said Stone. “It takes two years to get a breeding cow.”

They have 100 spring-fed ponds and all are dry. No water for cows to drink and lower hay yields mean Stone has to bring in water and feed at a cost that carries to consumers. The California Cattlemen’s Association says it just doesn’t make dollars and sense for everyone. And some ranchers are going out of business.

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It’s not the ranchers’ first rodeo dealing with drought, but with La Niña predicted this winter, it’s going to be a rough ride for ranchers.