Livestock auction selling hundreds more cattle than normal as ranchers fight the drought

Summer of 2021 is proving to be an especially tough season for ranchers. Across North Dakota, many of them are selling off cattle because they do not have enough hay to feed them. We dig into the impacts this drought is having on livestock.

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JAMESTOWN, N.D. — In a normal summer, the Jamestown livestock auction goes through a slow season, running once every two weeks. That is not the case this year. Now selling every Tuesday, their numbers of cattle being sold are surging.

The yard manager said they had between 400 to 500 heads of cattle come through on Tuesday, July 20, adding that on a day like this in a normal summer, they would have about 100.

Roger Nenow owns the auction barn, running it since 1993. He said this is the driest season he has ever worked through, saying it compares to 1988.

"The producers are just running out of grass, cows are going to start starving if they don't sell them," Nenow said. "It's a sad deal, very sad."

A silver lining is this problem is good for the cattle market, since sellers are getting good prices. Some buyers coming from as far away as Nebraska. But Nenow, and the other people running the auction, believe there will be long-terms effects on ranchers caused by the 2021 drought.


"Some of these people that are middle aged, (are)probably going to sell out and not get back into it, that's a sad part of it there," Nenow added.

"It's a very very stressful year. It's really tough on a lot of us, on the whole state, and just pray," Office Manager Kristal Uehran said. "We need to stay strong and take care of each other."

Some are bringing their cattle in early, dropping them off Tuesday night to be sold the following Tuesday. This is typically a highly uncommon move, and they are seeing it happen more and more this summer.

"Easily double to three times the normal amount," Manager Chad Mack explains the amount of cattle they're seeing. "We have cows and bulls coming in. We're going to start seeing calves coming here pretty soon, within the next month."

Mack said with calves getting sold later this year, some ranchers will drop out of the game.

"Normally a lot of guys in this country will wean their calves because they have feed and keep them over the fall and the winter, background them, keep them until spring, and it's just not an option this year," Mack said.

He hopes younger producers hang in there, agreeing that working in this industry can at times be like playing the lottery.

"It's like anything else, it goes up a little bit every year," Mack said. "But we've never seen a jump like this. I mean it's the nature of the beast I guess."


Ranchers at Tuesday's auction said the fields get more barren the further west you go. They say producers desperately need a good snowfall in the coming winter to properly recover from this drought.

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