Don’t Be Deceived: Public-Lands Ranching Is Big Business

An article published Thursday by, a site hosted by the research and technology news service Science X, contains some interesting information about livestock grazing on public lands.

The piece discusses the conflict between wolves and ranchers and will give you a better understanding of why America’s wild horses have few if any natural predators, a charge leveled by the ranchers against the horses, whose cattle compete with the horses for food and water—on land set aside for the horses.  (Yes, Virginia, it is insane.)

The rancher involved with the controversy, which plays out in northeast Washington, said he has lost $1 million since 2008 because of the wolves (75 to 100 cattle a year).

Most horse owners can relate to that—they would not want to find one of their horse kids ripped to shreds by a pack of wolves.

But there is a difference.  The horse kids are on private land.  The cattle are on public lands, which are subject to ‘multiple use’ and ‘sustained yield,’ ideals that may be hard to achieve in the grazing world.  (See Paragraph 7, Section 102 of Title I in FLPMA.)

Why?  Because livestock yield goes down as the wolf population goes up.

You see, the thriving ecological balance is really not a balance.

Thriving Ecological Balance Rev 2

Using round numbers, the rancher has lost 100 head per year over a ten year period, with a value of $1 million.  That puts the unit value at $1,000 per head.

With cattle futures trading around $120 per hundred weight, the value may be closer to $1,500 per head.

Reveille Calcs-1

So when you see 2,144 cow/calf pairs grazing an allotment, you’re looking at a market value of at least $2.1 million, assuming that only the offspring are processed!

If the price is $1,500 per head, those animals will have a market value of $3.2 million.

These are not poor ranchers trying to eke out an existence on the high desert!

The cost to feed those 2,144 cow/calf pairs?  Just $35,000.

The article goes on to say that the rancher in Washington state paid paid $4,177 to graze 736 cow/calf pairs on 80,000 acres.  If that was in 2018, when the grazing fee was $1.42 per AUM, 2,944 AUMs would have been billed over a four month grazing season.

The value of the product would be somewhere between $736,000 and $1.1 million.

Now do you see why the ranchers want the horses off the range and why they supported the disastrous ‘Path Forward?’

For the record, most of the wild horses in Washington state were eradicated decades ago, although some can be found on tribal lands (such as Yakama and Colville).  A point of departure in this regard would be the Horse Heaven Hills.

The article ends with a remark about the Colville Forest, where 34 livestock operators grazed 10,000 cattle last summer.

The market value of those animals would have been between ten and fifteen million dollars, and the ranchers would have paid just $57,000 to feed them, assuming a four month grazing season.

What do you suppose their P&L statements look like?

RELATED: This Is Why Wild Horses Have No Natural Predators.

UPDATE: The grazing fee in 2018 was $1.41 per AUM, not $1.42.  The fee for 2019 is $1.35 per AUM, which may change on March 1 next year.

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