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2013 a costly year for Upper Basin ranchers
Herald and News by Samantha Tipler 1/2/14
  H&N file photos  TOP: A child walks across the street from the Klamath County Courthouse to the Klamath County Government Center on July 1.
     Eric Duarte, of Duarte Livestock in Beatty, estimates he lost about $94,000 because of adjudication water shutoffs in the Upper Klamath Basin this year.

   Duarte made the estimation based on the number of yearlings he had to sell early. He had 656 yearlings, each selling when they were about 100 pounds below the weight they should have been. He got paid about $1.46 per pound, or $146 per 100 pounds. Take that times the number of yearlings, and it equates to $94,316.

   “It’s pretty easy math,” he said.  

   In a normal water year Duarte would not have sold his yearlings until the end of August or the first of September. When his water was shut off in June, he had to sell the yearlings around the end of June and the start of July.

  BOTTOM: Protesters shout and cheer at the Klamath water rally.

   “If you can’t feed ’em or graze ’em, then you have to get rid of ’em,” he said, noting he sold them to feed lots back east.

   Like other Upper Basin ranchers, Duarte’s water was shut off this year, the first year of Klamath County adjudication, when the Klamath Tribes and Klamath Project irrigators made calls for water in early June. That meant all the Upper Basin ranches went without irrigation water this summer.  

   “It was an economical burden,” Duarte said. “We’ve got a $90,000 hole in our account this year. We’ve got to make that up somewhere down the road.”

   Duarte said he heard the same story from other ranches in the Sprague River area this year. Ranchers in the Upper Basin told the Herald and News similar stories of dry fields and cattle being shipped off early, throughout the summer.

   If he encounters the same situation next year, losing another $90,000 or $100,000, Duarte doesn’t know if he could stay in business.

   “Cattle, especially cows and calves, we can’t just elect to plant them in May or not plant them,” he said, comparing cattle to a yearly field crop. “With a cow and calf, that’s an investment you’ve got over a seven- to   eight-year period. You can’t just sell her and buy her back next year.”

   Over the summer, Duarte didn’t need to buy feed because he sold the yearlings off so early. He could feed his cow-calf   pairs on the drier fields he still had available.

   Even then, Duarte weaned calves early and sold them underweight. But he said he couldn’t complain about that, as calf weight can fluctuate from year to year.

   After the tumultuous 2013, Duarte said he’s still making decisions about 2014. Usually   he would buy yearlings in February.

   “Right now we’re in limbo,” he said.

   With one of the driest Decembers coming to a close, the snowpack needed for next summer is still nonexistent. If there isn’t more moisture, and if a call for water is made again, Duarte may consider not buying   yearlings.

   Without water, he said it takes twice as much land to feed the same number of cattle. Or it takes the same amount of land to feed half as many cattle.

   “That’s double expense,” he said. “Ranch and feed still cost the same whether you run 1,000 or whether it’s 500.”




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