Western Slope cattle count headed down — The Montrose Press

Bill Fales cutting hay near Carbondale August 2020. The summer’s drought led to a 40% smaller crop than what he would normally harvest at the first cutting of the season. “I’m going to have to sell cows because I just don’t have enough hay and it’s too expensive to buy to feed to cattle,” he says. Photo credit: Laurine Lassalle / Aspen Journalism

From The Montrose Press (Michael Cox):

The year of COVID-19, a yoyo ride with China exports, processor uncertainty, head-spinning pricing, the rising reality of a drought devastating rangelands, and the need to fight off swarms of animal rights attacks, not the least of which is the Initiative 16, aimed at terminating livestock husbandry, leaves the typical meat producers gasping for breath and fighting for his/her life.

While demand is up well over last year and prices are climbing, Colorado ranchers face some uncertain times. Consumers will be facing higher prices, especially in the food service industry. Packers say there is plenty of beef in the pipeline. But demand is raising numbers. Last year a tenderloin was selling at about $8 a pound. The uptick in wholesale prices has the same cut now selling for double that. One would think this is good medicine for cattle producers. But other factors are at work. One is the lack of water…

The Forest Service and BLM managers are presently looking at dropping permit carrying numbers by as much as 20 to 40%. For a permit allowing, say 15 cows per section, that is a call for serious herd culling…

Daris Jutten, a member of the Uncompahgre Water Users Association board looks at the situation from a water manager and rancher perspective.

“I think it (the cattle count) has to be going down. The whole west is in a serious drought,” he says. On the numbers, Jutten sees maybe 30% less turned out to grass (turned onto summer range) in the west, as a whole.”


Kurt Sanburg, longtime Bostwick Park operator, says about the moisture, “We haven’t received a 10th of an inch yet but it’s drizzling (on Monday this week). I will be reducing our number of cows pretty significantly. I will drop the cow count by as much as 25%,” he says.

Meanwhile, another Sanburg, Hugh, who ranches a lot of the southern slope of the Grand Mesa, is looking at down numbers as are his neighbors. “There have (already) been some reductions around here due to the drought conditions. I don’t have a crystal ball, but if the severe drought conditions persist through the summer, I would expect to see more movement of cattle within the drought affected areas.”

Sanburg is referring to moving cattle off the range, in other words culling. All the while, praying for rain…

Colorado fed cattle prices bottomed out in July of last year at about $91/cwt. The prices have been up and down and up again until April 22, when they hit $123. But, with costs continuing to go up and range capacity falling, marginal producers will be looking at slim times. That is a sad thing to report considering the rocket ride that whole beef prices are on as restaurant ramps up from the Covid-19 crater of last year.

The slaughter count on all beef is hovering in the high range, although below the peak last year that occurred just before the drastic tumble when the COVID and packer crises hit.

Leave a Reply