Monday, January 30, 2012

The great northern migration -- of US cattle

P.J. Huffstutter and Theopolis Waters in Reuters: For more than a century, through a dozen dry spells when lakes disappeared and the land died, thousands of cows from the Swenson Land & Cattle Co have roamed the fields of Texas. Yet the drought currently ravaging the southern Plains has done what the Dust Bowl could not: chased them off this land and driven them more than 600 miles north to Nebraska.

Now, as the worst drought in a century stretches into its second year, these ranchers and many of their peers are herding their animals in record numbers to the Cornhusker State and other points north, in search of grazing land that is not parched - a shift that is fueling a dramatic economic and cultural reshaping of the U.S. livestock industry.

...While some Texas ranchers hang on, selling off their stock at an unprecedented pace that has reduced America's cattle herd to the smallest in 60 years, many are carving new homesteads out of some of the richest grassland in North America, a bid for survival that falls somewhere between surrender and hope.

In cattle-car convoys that wind along routes cowboys used in the 1800s, this migration is also a stark illustration of the myriad threats facing the world's future food supply: intense competition for land; increasing demands on limited water resources; and the growing threat of volatile weather.

...While Nebraska offered solace for a first wave of bovine refugees, space is running out, forcing some even further north or west to less hospitable climes; virulent diseases could, if left unchecked, devastate local stock, a threat that has prompted officials to quarantine dozens of herds....

A cattle drive, photographed by the US Enivironmental Protection Agency

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