California’s Drought Hits Cattle Farmers Hard

Residents of California are starting to get a little worried about where all their rain has been. The state is beginning to capture headlines around the world with news of a drought so serious that it may be the worst in 500 years, and that could have a huge effect on the state’s agriculture, communities and manufacturing. As more and more days have passed without rain, the state is dry as a tinderbox, and it could be in serious economic trouble, while people outside California may be missing out on popular exports like wine and Haas avocados.

One area where the drought is particularly acute is in cattle farming and ranching in general, where farmers count on winter rains to nourish lush pastures. California cows are typically turned out to graze so they can enjoy the outdoors, produce milk that meets organic standards, and eat a rich, varied diet. Furthermore, grazing from natural pasture is much more cost-effective, as it’s totally free.

Unfortunately, those spacious hills, which should be covered in fresh greenery, are dry as a bone across the state, and that means farmers are having to turn to hay and alternate fodder. That’s bad news for cows and farmers alike. Hay prices are going up, and there are some concerns that suppliers may start to run dry in a few months. This could force farmers into tough choices, including culling herds to get them down to manageable levels rather than watching their cattle starve for lack of healthy fodder.

It also poses a problem for organic certification. Farmers working to produce organic milk and products like cheese, butter and yogurt would prefer to keep their herds organic, but they may not have much of a choice. Marin County, known for its large organic herds, has already requested a USDA waiver to relax the pasturing requirements for organic certification so herds can stay certified, but still eat (normally, organic herds must graze on pasture for at least 120 days). Of course, if farmers are supplementing with hay, that needs to be organic too, and supplies of organic hay are thin on the ground, and getting thinner.

To compensate for the low available pasture, farmers are trucking in water (talk about watering the lawn…but in this case, it’s necessary) and scrambling to find hay sources. Ultimately, though, it may not be enough, which leaves them with the next obvious choice: reducing demand for hay by reducing the size of the herd. This could be devastating for farmers, who count on the diversity and size of their herds to produce high volumes of milk.

Meanwhile, prices for meat and milk alike will be going up in response to production pressures, which have to be passed on to consumers. Even with subsidies and other government assistance, it may not be possible to control pricing and keep it affordable for all Californians.

This issue raises some important questions about agriculture in California and whether the state should be so heavily invested in agriculture as we head towards a potentially drier future. It also challenges the consumption of animal products. While a decline in customer demand would hurt farmers, Californians wouldn’t be in this position in the first place if they’d cut down on their meat and dairy-eating ways: and I say this as a die-hard California cheese lover.

Photo credit: Matt.


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Melania Padilla
Melania P3 years ago

Well, what are your priorities America?? Having water to drink and LIVE, or having water to produce meat?? See where I´m going....

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

This whole report is written portraying the cattle ranchers as a premier victim. There are many areas and animals and humans in this mess, not just the greedy cattle ranchers. Most cattle ranchers already get so much government help in different ways that I don't worry too much about their bottom dollar. They don't worry about the public's bottom line. Portray the big picture when talking California drought. What about almond, peach, walnut, tomato -- all require water. Wildlife!

Carole R.
Carole R4 years ago

A draught has many effects that we have to learn to deal with. We have never been a conserving country. Now we are being forced to. Lesson learned? I doubt it.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B4 years ago

My God - people feeling sorry for something that is entirely the fault of the human species. It's the poor animals I feel sorry for. They have done nothing wrong yet have to pay for our crap.

Paul Barbara
Paul Barbara4 years ago

@ Ruby W.: You may have been tongue-in-cheek with your comment on 'getting the Jet Stream to go west instead of east, but 'those guys' can indeed alter the course of the jetstream, and I have no doubt they have.

Has anyone wondered if this drought could have been engineered?
Watch 'California Skywatch : The Chemtrail Cover-Up (HQ - FL) - YouTube Rosalind Peterson'. And 'Geoengineering Whistleblower ~ Ex-Military ~ Kristen Meghan'.
Wake up to Stratospheric Geoengineering, and the HAARP project.
The US Military has said it will 'Own the Weather by 2020' as part of it's 'Full-Spectrum Dominance'.
And of course, 'Follow the Money'; who stands to gain by putting Organic Farming under stress? Monsanto. Who ordered the radiation monitors turned off when Fukushima radiation was on the way? Obama. Why? Good question; the truth about the Fukushima dangers would hit the Nuclear Power Industry; they would find it difficult to sell new reactors, and worse, I believe there are twenty-odd reactors of the Fukushima type in the US!
I'm a Brit, but if I was a Californian, I know who I would want for Governor, and it's not one of the major Parties. I won't mention her name, but she's Anti-War, Anti-GMO and Pro the People!
I hope you check the sites I referred to above; they are eye-opening.

Ruby W.
Inez w4 years ago

Do you guys want us to send you Somerset? It is basically fully under water now, we could do without the water, you could do with it.
Fair exchange?
(or, if you guys can get the jet stream to go west instead o f east, our consistent rain will make it's way to you itself)

Gerald L.
Gerald L4 years ago

@ Carol P. quote: Ranchers should have known this was coming and diversified. It isn't as if we haven't known about climate change for long enough.

Carol much of the western grazing operations are in very rough, hardpan marginal land. It is impossible to till and grow grains or root vegetable crops. But they are resilient and will sell off surplus if there is no rain in sight. It is a hard life, In Alberta for example in the last decade they have dealt with drought and major flooding of cropland and pastures. One Bison operator moved his herd to Northern Manitoba to save it and not be forced to liquidate it at fire sale prices.when they were suffering drought.

Last summer it was probably early August before it stopped raining and we finally got some good heat days for gardening, so there was 1 - 6" squash when 2 years ago we had a heaping wheelbarrow full.

Russie C.
Russie C4 years ago

In times of drought like California, we need to stop watering golf courses and having car washes going on and some of our neighbors water their yards everyday whether it needs it or not, how wasteful some people are...