Cattle ranchers get ready for the year ahead

A cattle farmer feeds his cow on March 8, 2013 in Dallas Center, Iowa. Severe droughts that affected the southern plains in 2011 and the Midwest in 2012 have contributed to the decline of the U.S. cattle inventory.

Remember the drought that baked the Midwest last summer? Might be a distant memory to you but for ranchers and farmers, 2012 was a financial struggle that lasted through the winter.

For cattle rancher Ken Lenox in Rolla, Missouri, the drought left a bill of "a little over $100,000," he says. We spoke with Lenox during the drought last year and decided to check back in today to see how things have changed since then. Since then, Lenox said he had to purchase hay to feed the cattle in the summer during the drought and through the winter.  He says he's still paying about $1,000 a day to feed his herd. But that stops when the grass starts growing.

The weather's still cold in Rolla. "The calendar says it's spring, it just hasn't sprung here yet. We're right on the verge of grass growing."

For now, Lenox is focused on the upcoming cattle sale in June. He says his herd came through in great shape. But even if the sale goes well, he won't make back what he lost in 2012.  "That money's gone," he says.

Still, Lenox is optimistic. "My wife and I, we feel good about it," he says.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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