Home 5 Ag Stories Severe drought in Northern Plains threatens 2018 cattle herd

Severe drought in Northern Plains threatens 2018 cattle herd

Photo by Ben Nuelle


We are in August, with vegetation full grown and now beginning to mature. For the cattle industry, this is a time when grass should be available and water should be easy for cows to obtain. However, that is not the case in the Northern Plains and may disrupt the cattle cycle with a major drought.

A livestock analyst took a recent road trip through the hardest hit areas of the Dakotas and says this may become a nationwide issue very soon if it doesn’t rain.

It’s possible the severely dry weather we are experiencing this year, especially up north in the Dakotas and surrounding areas, could potentially impact the size of our mama cow herd as we head towards the new year. Jim Robb of the Livestock Marketing Information Center recently took a road trip around some of the drought stricken areas of the country, for a first-hand look at conditions on the ground. Robb spoke to Ron Hays with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network this week.

“We’re really on the cusp of this becoming a nationwide issue,” Robb said. “The drought really covers central and eastern Montana, most all of North and South Dakota, and it’s drifting down into Nebraska, especially (into) the Northern Sandhills and eastern Wyoming.”

Robb reports the land he covered looked even more drought-like than what is indicated on the Drought Monitor. Some of these areas have experienced drought-like conditions going on two years now, mostly in low rainfall regions, making it a struggle for the land to recover. Robb notes that 15 percent of all U.S. cattle reside in the drought zone. He says this is beginning to impact marketing patterns – with cull cow numbers picking up, lighter weight calves arriving at markets and increased movement. To what extent, though, is still up for speculation.

“We’ve seen cow/calf pairs move out of those states in recent months, but really to the point now where there’s a lot of early weaning going on,” Robb said. “Quite a few more hay trucks heading north out of Wyoming, Colorado and the irrigated parts of Nebraska into those drought areas than I’ve seen in many years.”