The Drought, Part 2---The Scarcity of Feed...

The Scarcity Of Animal Feed…

The plan of moving cattle off of pastures and into the feed yard is a good way to conserve grass and maintain the breeding herd for as long as possible.  All animals that are not going to be used to “make babies” are moved to the next step of the beef cycle which is into the feed yard.

Here, Studly (the horse) and I are trailing a group of cattle to their “home pen” at the feed yard…

This allows for the conservation of temporarily limited natural resources on the ranch where the breeding animals for the United States cattle herds reside.  As I mentioned in my last post, I try to help my ranchers when they run out of grass by taking their non-breeding animals early when grass is limited due to drought conditions.

Moving non-breeding animals off of grass pastures allows for more grass to graze with mama cows like these…

Normally enough feed is available on my farm (and in the surrounding farming community) to sustain and grow those animals in preparation for harvest.  This year is anything but normal…

Today I find myself in a challenging place.  My feed yard has many more animals than normal for the first week of August, and I am struggling to find some of the feedstuffs needed to nourish and grow them.  My phone rings several times a day from my ranchers (who are running out of grass) asking me when they can bring me more animals, and it is hard to find a good answer  because the general scarcity of feed is affecting the feed yard as well.

It is my responsibility to ALWAYS offer good care to my animals which includes a balanced and nutritious diet…


The primary ingredient in the blend of feed that I give to my animals is wet distillers grains which is the co-product that is produced through the ethanol extraction process (it is what is left of the corn after the ethanol has been removed).  The wide spread drought that has plagued the Midwest region of the country this summer has threatened the growing corn crop in addition to limiting grass and other forages.  The uncertainty of this year’s crop is worrisome to both me and my ranchers.

Corn is currently trading in the $8.00 per bushel range which is as high as I have ever seen it.  The relative price of ethanol to corn is not economically favorable, so several ethanol plants in Nebraska are temporarily closed down.  When my ethanol plant does not run, wet distillers grains becomes very difficult to procure.

This is what wet distillers grains looks like…

This is catastrophic for me because wet distillers grains is what I blend with my home grown forages (grass, alfalfa, corn stalks and wheat stubble) to make a high quality cattle feed—-I am not able to simply shut down my feed yard because feed is scarce and expensive just like some ethanol plants have done.  I have real live animals under my care—Animals that are depending on me to feed them every day.

You can see the yellow wet distillers here blended with forages to make a balanced feed for the animals.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about What Keeps Me Up At Night and talked about the volatility of the commodity markets and how that makes my job of growing beef very, very difficult.  Since I wrote that post, I have a new item to add to the list of What Keeps Me Up At Night…

Where can I find the necessary feed to provide my animals with the nourishment that they need to thrive and produce high quality beef?

Quite honestly, this is the single largest challenge that I have faced in the last 15 years.  I know what it is like to lose money raising beef because of uncontrollable market swings—I have been there before.  However, I have never been faced with the added challenge of logistically finding the feed that I need for my animals.

Our farm is our livelihood and it has taught me to be both creative and tenacious…

I have recently changed the blend of feed in my rations in an effort to conserve the resources that I have available to me, and pray that the availability of feed will increase over the next couple of weeks.  With each day that passes, I am reminded of the importance of my faith as I struggle to correctly put together the increasingly difficult puzzle of caring for cattle and raising nutritious beef during  a time of feed scarcity…

Anne Burkholder

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