Carrying Out a Drought Plan Can Be Painful

Husker Home Place

Selling off my cow herd last Friday because of the drought was more difficult than I could have imagined.

Published on: July 25, 2012

This past Friday was a tough day. I had been dreading the day for some time, although I knew it was coming up on the horizon. With each passing day of extreme heat and no rain, I watched my paddocks of grass dry and turn into nothing more than kindling for a fire.

Warm season pastures that normally carried my small herd through the hottest of summer months never materialized. Cool season grasses that greened up early this season, provided some April grazing, but fizzled out in the summer sun.

One producer who has been rotational grazing his herds for years told me that even management intensive grazing relies on rainfall to rejuvenate grazed paddocks. Without precipitation, nothing grows, whether it is rested or not. Cover crops, nurse crops, pulse crops, late season forage crops and even weeds need rain to grow.

So, a few weeks back, I knew the day was coming when I would run out of grass. We grazed grass in our orchard, around our farmstead and in our shelterbelts. This week, there was literally nothing left for the cows.

Early Friday morning, my neighbor helped me move my cows into the barn. When the semi-trailer drove on the farm, my heart sank to my knees. The cows and their calves loaded up the chute and onto the trailer in the early morning sun, bidding farewell to the only farm they had ever known.

I sold my cows to slaughter and my feeder calves as well. In both cases, the animals brought much less than they would have a month ago. But, without any grass anywhere near us, prices have slumped and buying expensive hay is not even an option.

I was able to keep a few young heifers that I will feed forages to and graze on the little remaining pasture I have left. Other than those few head, every critter was sold.

As I sat in the seats at the auction market, I remembered how I had started my herd when I was in high school, purchasing a few purebred heifers from a neighboring farmer as an FFA project. Although the herd never grew very large by Nebraska Sandhills standards, we did rely on the sale of those feeder calves as an important part of our farm income. I remembered the hours I spent with my father checking cattle and fixing creek fences. I recalled many evening rides with my wife and children checking water tanks and baby calves in the pasture.

It’s all a part of life. Tough, dry years help us remember that we really aren’t in charge. Someone else holds that duty. We need to appreciate the rains, and never take our crops, soil, land, water or livestock for granted. It can all be taken away so quickly.

Hopefully, when the rains come again, we can rebuild our little herd into what it was. Maybe the cows we save will be even more productive than those that we sold. But it still stings a bit to see those friendly cow faces go, because I had worked hard to take good care of them over the years and had become so accustomed to them as part of our farm life.

Be sure to watch and our August print issue of Nebraska Farmer for more news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Check out the Farm Progress drought site at

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Curtis, You video reminded me of how painful it was to watch our cattle go to market. I remember watching the semi drive away and us kids would be waving goodbye and crying in hopes that Dad would let them go back out in the pasture. It must have been painful for your family too. I am so sorry you are going through this. In case you don't remember me, I am the granddaughter of Clemens and Elizabeth Luft who had the farm next to yours to the south. I will pray for rain soon and try to send some your way from Colorado. Renae Mueller-Gannon.

  2. Anonymous says:

    My heart goes out to you. That is the hardest thing to do. Only a farmer will understand how deep this loss will be felt by you. I do not mean the income part of it, either. It is a shame the National News does not ever focus on this subject. They only focus on the bad. My prayers will be with you.

  3. says:

    Thanks for your kind words. The folks I'm most concerned about are the ranchers around Norden and Springview, where drought AND wildfires are threatening their homes, ranches, pastures, fences and livestock. We really need to keep them in our thoughts and prayers. - Curt

  4. Anonymous says:

    I would like to thank this farmer for his honesty and thank all the farmers of America for trying so hard to survive in this terrible drought. You are in my prayers.