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Local ranchers struggle in drought conditions

FORTUNA- With record dry conditions local ranchers are the hardest hit by the drought that has left little food for livestock and ranchers with few choices. Cattlemen have been forced to purchase feed and are having to sell cattle sooner and at lower prices.

In Fortuna, Lou Mora, President of Humboldt/Del Norte Cattleman's Association, said this year is the worst he has seen. "We're scared. We're really scared. This is an abnormal year," said Mora.

Where Mora's cows are, in Fortuna, the grass is inches from the ground. Mora said the grass is at least a foot long during this time of year. "We haven't had any grass growing since mid July," he said.

Mora said he typically does not have to buy feed, but has had to this year. Jeff Stackhouse, livestock advisor at the Humboldt County UC Cooperative Extension, said the price of feed has tripled, because of drought conditions on the west coast and wet conditions in the rest of the country.

Ranchers are faced with a decision, said Mora, buy feed or decrease the size of your heard. Mora has cut the size of their herd in half, and still has to purchase supplemental feed. Mora said other cattlemen are selling their calves six to two months earlier.

"They're going to sell those animals early, and for a lot less money than they had budgeted for," said Mora.

Cattle are priced per pound and if ranchers are selling cows earlier, they are lighter and sell for less. "People are going to have a lot less money in their pocket," said Mora.

In other parts of California ranchers are selling adult cows to cut down on herd size. Mora said North Coast ranchers never need to, but are starting to consider it if conditions persist. "That is becoming food for thought for a lot of ranchers," said Mora.

Ranchers do have the market on their side. Beef is selling for a record high prices.