Mo’ drought, moo problems. Hamburger and sirloins are becoming more expensive than ever in the wake of drought-driven herd thinning.
Herd thinning isn’t a bovine diet and calisthenics regime. It’s a euphemism for unplanned cow slaughtering — though the end result of the unfortunate practice could literally lower your meat and cholesterol intake. The L.A. Times reports that the retail price of choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 a pound last month, up from $4.91 a year ago:
Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry.
The nation’s cattle population has fallen to 87.7 million, the lowest since 1951, when there were 82.1 million on hand, according to the USDA. (The peak was 1975, with 132 million heads of cattle, but the animals then were less meaty and required more feed.)
“We’re dealing with chronically low herds,” said Richard Volpe, an economist for the USDA. “Beef prices should remain at near-record highs this year and into 2015.”
Even vegetarians aren’t being spared from repercussions of herd thinning. Cattle munch on tumbleweeds, and Colorado’s dwindling cattle population has contributed to a choking outbreak. The AP reports that the freewheeling weeds are so thick in some places that firefighters had to cut through them to help a pregnant woman reach the hospital.
“The frustrating part is once you get the first wave beat down, packed down and out of the road, the wind comes up and here comes the next batch,” said county road worker Russell Bennett.