North Dakota Stockmen's Association convention reflects on cattle ranchers' turbulent year

The North Dakota Stockmen's Association held their 2021 convention where many speakers discussed the turbulent year producers have endured and applauded their perseverance through the tough times.

Cattlemen and women gathered on Sept. 24, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota, to attend the North Dakota Stockmen's Convention. Emily Beal / Agweek

FARGO, North Dakota — It’s no secret that cattle producers have faced quite the turbulent year, forcing them to make tough decisions .

Jeff Schafer, president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, commended cattle producers and ranchers for their perseverance while speaking at this year’s North Dakota Stockmen's Association Convention, held in Fargo, North Dakota, Sept. 23-25.

“Several producers, especially in that Rugby country, had to make some tough decisions early on. There was just not any feed, any grass, and the culling started early,” Schafer said on Sept. 24.

Jeff Schafer spoke on Sept. 24, 2021, at the North Dakota Stockmen's Convention and discussed the adversity ranchers have had to face this year. Photo taken in Fargo, North Dakota. Emily Beal / Agweek

In addition to making culling decisions, cattle producers faced extra work and challenges compared to a non-drought year. According to Schafer many producers had to fence off certain dug outs due to them just being a muddy and undrinkable water source for cattle.


Schafer’s first year in production agriculture was in 1988, another notorious year for the region in terms of drought. He has been seeing similarities between ‘88 and this year. A particular pasture of his never became green in 1988 due to the lack of rainfall, and therefore was not grazed. The pasture was again not grazable this year, for the first time since the summer of ‘88.

“I do remember that year very well,” Schafer said.

Don Schiefelbein, a Minnesota rancher who is president-elect of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, also attended the Stockmen’s Convention. He has seen first-hand the struggles cattlemen and women are facing.

Don Schiefelbein will become president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in February of 2022. Photo taken Sept. 24, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. Emily Beal / Agweek

“It’s been a rough year for a lot of folks. It used to be that we would talk about black swan event, meaning there was one. It seems like they’re flying in flocks now,” he said. “Just when you think you get through one issue, the cattle market disruption through COVID and then we get blasted with a drought that impacts so many folks. It’s hard for cattlemen not to say, ‘When will we get back to normal?’”

Schiefelbein has seen a varied response in terms of early culling and overall culling decisions. He believes with a good cattle market on the horizon, ranchers are doing everything they can to keep a hold of their cattle and not downsize their herd. Schafer has not yet made any downsizes to his own herd, but said he will be getting rid of his open cows after they are ultrasounded.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also spoke at the Stockmen’s convention and applauded the association for breaking their membership record by 116 members. In addition, he praised the cattlemen and women who have faced adversity over this past year, noting it had not been easy.


North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum stopped by and spoke to ranchers in attendance at the North Dakota Stockmen's Association convention on Sept. 24, 2021, saying it was an honor to serve them and that he greatly admires their perseverance. Photo taken in Fargo, North Dakota. Emily Beal / Agweek

“It’s an honor for us to serve all of you. I get a little emotional sometimes when I get in a room of people like this across North Dakota because you really stand for the things that I believe in about our state: family, community, people that look out for their neighbors and care for each other. The resilience and perseverance that you show in good years and bad years really comes through and really shines," Burgum said. "Especially in a tough drought year like we’re all going through right now.”

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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