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Livestock numbers down in Wyoming and across the U.S.

The number of cattle nationwide is at its lowest since the 1950s. Wyoming’s population is just under 1.3 million, down 5% from last year and the lowest since the early 1990s. Drought has caused many ranchers in the state to sell off cattle.

Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Jim Magagna, says some older ranchers with smaller operations liquidated their herds altogether and he predicts those cattle will not be replaced for close to a decade.  

“The larger ranches who reduced their numbers because of drought, if we could have a succession of 2 or 3 years of good moisture so they really have some reason for optimism that we’ve moved beyond that dry period, I think they would begin to build their numbers back up and we would see some increase in numbers,” says Magagna.

Magagna adds that it’s unlikely that numbers will return to levels they were at in the late 90s any time soon: “Nor perhaps should we for a couple of reasons. One is I think the way we manage our resources, or grass and our rangelands today, we use them more carefully and with smaller numbers of livestock, which to some point has certainly been a plus. But the other thing is the cattle we’re raising today are producing hugely significant greater amount pounds of beef than the cattle we had in the 1950s.” 

A cow today produces over 600 pounds of beef. In the 80s, that number was under 500 pounds. For now, beef prices are up nationwide and Magagna says that that’s helping Wyoming beef producers.

Irina Zhorov is a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She earned her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from the University of Wyoming. In between, she worked as a photographer and writer for Philadelphia-area and national publications. Her professional interests revolve around environmental and energy reporting and she's reported on mining issues from Wyoming, Mexico, and Bolivia. She's been supported by the Dick and Lynn Cheney Grant for International Study, the Eleanor K. Kambouris Grant, and the Social Justice Research Center Research Grant for her work on Bolivian mining and Uzbek alpinism. Her work has appeared on Voice of America, National Native News, and in Indian Country Today, among other publications.
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