Monday, January 27, 2014

Out west, cowboys and cattle ranchers adapt to migration, technology to stay in the trade

The life of cowboys and cattle ranchers in the Western U.S. has undergone a transformation in recent years, as more people move to cities, and those who stay on the range are forced to adapt to changes in technology to stay in the cattle trade, Dan Frosch reports for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Matthew Staver: National Western Stock Show in Denver)

The Internet, cell phones and more complex technologies are now standard practice among cattle ranchers, Frosch writes. "Gone are the days when a cattleman could simply eyeball his herd to figure out which animals to breed; these days, cutting-edge genetic techniques are used to identify the strongest cattle and those requiring the least amount of grass." Marshall Ernst, a rancher from Windsor, Colo., told Frosch, “It’s a tough, rapidly changing business. Those who are not taking advantage of new technology or are resistant to change may not be able to survive.”

Migration has also been a problem. "As suburbs around the West have crept farther out onto the plains, and the cost of raising cattle has risen, the number of cattle has dwindled to the lowest level since 1952, according to 2013 data from the United States Department of Agriculture," Frosch writes. "Finding good, knowledgeable cowboys has also become harder, as more people have moved to cities away from the rural communities that raised them, cattlemen here said. And these days, ranchers must spend considerably more money and time on marketing their cattle over the Internet to stay relevant and profitable."

Years of drought and rising beef cattle prices are also a concern as well as a growing disinterest in younger generations in continuing the family tradition of farming, Frosh writes. Mike Miller, a senior vice president for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told him, “Generationally, things change. We’ve got kids that grow up on farms and ranches. They watch their mom and dad work extremely hard and in some cases not make very much money. And they decide that’s not the life for them.” (Read more)

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