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Montana ranchers face drought, cost challenges

Drought and hay cost taking a toll on some Montana ranchers
Posted at 2:11 PM, Apr 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 16:11:45-04

HILL COUNTY — HAVRE - It’s no secret that Montana is just getting dryer.

The drought conditions have taken a heavy toll on Montana's ranchers and their century-old way of life.

Leon lasale has been a rancher all his life.

“Oh, I have been doing this for as long as I can remember. I don’t know, I'm 57 and so I've been doing it all my life, really.”

But with the dry climate, keeping his cattle has become an extreme challenge.

“Myself -- and everybody within hundreds of miles around me -- I'm sure is thinking the same thing, so what are we going to do,” lasale noted.

Ranchers have dealt with droughts and harsh conditions in the past. As lasale pointed out, “you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Drought affects many things, but for ranchers, it's affecting everything.

“We’re nervous about the amount of water that is going to be available for the livestock for grazing,” lasale said. “You can’t prepare for a drought in a drought.”

The price of hay has skyrocketed according to lasale, “the hay prices...have been almost triple what we normally pay.”

Right now, you can expect to pay at least $300 for one ton of hay.

One cow will eat around two tons per year so a rancher, with say a herd of 100 cows, would end up paying $60,000 every year for hay.

“We are not having a big economic boom in the ranching industry,” lasale said.

Ranchers like lasale are worried about having to quit their way of life.

“This is going to be the last year we are going to be able to keep our cattle if we don’t get moisture, there’s not going to be enough grass, there’s not going to be any feed.”

Despite the concerns, lasale is hopeful that things will look up.

“That’s why we kept the cattle and we fed them. We’re the eternal optimists as ranchers. We always call it next year country. Next year it’s going to be better, the calves are going to be bigger.”

Montana ranchers are taking it one day at a time, hoping to hold on.

“It’s not over till it’s over, I mean. But it gives me a little bit more hope going forward that I can get to that next rainstorm,” lasale concluded.