Struggle to feed cattle intensifies as drought persists in Kansas

Some Kansas cattle ranchers say they've had to sell off half of their herds due to low grazing situation and the high cost of other means of feeding.
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 7:11 PM CDT
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HODGEMAN COUNTY, Kan. (KWCH) - While the ongoing drought elevates farmers’ concerns ahead of wheat harvest, the impact isn’t limited to planted crops. As the drought continues, the impact on cattle grows, especially in Western Kansas. Without rain, pastures aren’t producing enough grazing land for them to eat. It’s leaving farmers with few options on how to feed their cattle.

Near Hanston in Hodgeman County, Lonnie Ruff has farmed for decades.

“I’m 66 years old and I’ve never seen it this dry,” Ruff said.

He said the drought is causing long-term problems.

“We run a large farm, about 30,000 head of feedlot cattle. And this will be the first year in our history come August when it’s time to cut new crop, we won’t have a 10,000 ton carry over of silage. It’s all going to be used,” Ruff said.

Ruff said the grass is growing, but not enough. So, he has to be innovative with feeding his cattle.

“I’ve brought tires out, feeding my cows silage,” he said. “I come out here about every other day. They’re probably getting [30 to 40] pounds a day.”

He said there’s an added cost with keeping his cattle fed during drought, but not as much as losing his herd.

“I will not sell my cattle. I cannot afford to sell my cattle,” Ruff said. “I’ll feed them and keep them.”

He knows change won’t come easily, even when much-needed rain falls again.

“It took several years to get in this situation, it’s going to take several years to get out of this situation,” Ruff said.

In the meantime, he said there’s only one thing to do.

“Just keep going and keep praying to the good Lord and hope that we start getting rain,” Ruff said.

A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture drought map shows Kansas with the lowest-producing pasture conditions in modern history. Ruff said some of his neighbors had to sell half of their herds because of the low grazing situation and the high costs that come with other means of feeding them.