Transcript: Cattle ranchers in Eastern WA face the pandemic
Video link: https://crosscut.com/video/new-normal/cattle-ranchers-eastern-wa-face-pandemic
I grew up just six miles down the road on a wheat farm. And I have lived on this ranch since 1962.
We're here raising beef cattle and hay, raising our two children. Edgar and Elsie, they're five and. seven years old.
The Ranching operation, you're taking advantage of the multi-generations.
My parents, us, Dick, Bridget, and the children.
Friends of mine that aren't ranchers, they just think that if you put a mask on that just means you've been co-opting. It's not that simple.
I think that we've all been having a lingering fear in the back of our minds, what about my family, my friends?
Now I am currently approaching my 90th birthday (laughs). We were gonna have a big wingding and decided that it had to be canceled.
When this thing started, you're hearing all the reports and the models and you're thinking, my gosh, you know, we better get ahead of this.
You've got evidence on the one hand that this is a rational way to deal with the issue, shut things down, and then you're left with, is it worth crippling, was a fabulous economy?
And we're talking depression level unemployment. Ruining a businesses that may not recover.
The cattle industry is really a long term venture. It's multi-generations of the cows, multi-generations of the families. Really a long run, huge course sustainability of their ranch and their eco-system that they operate.
They're not highly profitable.
So downturn can be significant.
(train blowing horn)
In agriculture, in the cattle industry, a lot of it's goes back to basic supply and demand.
If we have less processing capacity, we have more cattle than we do a market for, and so our prices are going to go down.
That puts the cattle enterprise revenue at risk.
And so then the family has to decide how important is the cattle ranch to their total farm revenue.
The typical rancher in our country, they've got a commercial cow-calf herd. And so they've got a base of cows that they maintain on that ranch, through that cow's whole career, whether it's 10 or 11 years that she's producing, and they're producing the calf crop every year.
That's basically your income stream on a typical ranch. Those calves are marketed typically when they're 550 or 600 pounds, and they would go into what's called a back-grounding lot.
And that's merely a feed lot that specializes in developing those calves and taking them from that 650 pound weight to a 900 pound weight.
How are you doing?
Good to see you.
It's a constant rotation.
You saw a couple of empty pens out there. And what we'll do is take advantage of that empty pen, to scrape it, to get in perfect shape.
But you just always re-prepping the pen for the next group of cattle and start all over again, from the start rationally up to the finish (indistinct).
Just the backlog of cattle with what we've seen with the slowdown of plants just for two months is gonna have a ripple effect down the down the road for a year or two.
This is a perishable commodity. It's not a crop of wheat that you can put in a bin and wait for another month or four and wait for the market. When they get to their end point, it's pretty finite. You can stall a bit, you can get away with a week or two, but at some point, there's an animal welfare concern, and there's certainly an efficiency, a reality once they're to their end point, it's time for them to go.
Mike has is fed my calves enough. He knows what they're gonna do. I called him up here the other day and said, "I think I'm gonna put these cattle on feed and retain ownership, do you have room?"
He says, "I've got a lot of people thinking the same way you are," they wanna retain ownership, and the idea things are gonna be better but he says, "I'll always make room for you."
And you can't ask for any better relationship than that.
The next set of cattle we have, there's a couple loads coming this week, a couple coming next week, and then Dick's cattle coming after that.
The cattle that I had coming out of the feed lot as that buck collapsed from January 16th through the end of April. It had cost me 15 or $20,000 over what I would have got out of those cattle, at the bare minimum. And maybe as high as 50, who knows what the market would have done?
One thing I didn't foresee was the CARES program. That was a financial infusion to our industry.
Our policy is really not to take government money you know, unless it's a, you know, a disaster, you know, obviously a hurricane tornado, those sorts of things.
And it was pretty obviously to our leadership, a disaster. I received enough money, actually came out, about like I had projected.
The COVID threat that slowed down the packing plants, in spring that caused a massive market disruption, has been addressed through social distancing and personal protective equipment. But the underlying disease risk for COVID, for the packing plants, for the industry for everybody remains brewing in the background.
There's always something that keeps you from being totally comfortable with your position.
So I guess we look at any good news is transitory, at best.
If we really can't operate beef processing plants safely and they're shut down, there's no place to go with these cattle. They are raised for beef. That is more of a troubling thought and kind of a mental black hole to go down that you don't wanna down.
I think we need optimism to, you know...
(zip line zipping)
So many people my age, have mostly moved to the city, moved to a retirement home.
It's been a blessing to have Bridget and Paul and the family here, and I would have probably bailed out if I hadn't had them.
People are grateful to get high-quality food. And that's what we wanna do, just want the liberty to do it in the best way we know how.
(people chattering indistinctly)
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