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Marin County Cattle Ranchers Selling Off Parts Of Herd Because Of Drought

MILLERTON, Marin County (KPIX 5) -- The seriousness of the drought can best be seen in the pastures of West Marin County where cattle ranchers are being forced to take drastic action. It is a dire warning about the severity of the water emergency.

Monday was not a good day for Mike Giammona but one he knew was coming.

"We realized it a while ago. This just happens to be the day," he said.

His young beef cattle should have been up on the hillside of Millerton Creek Ranch, fattening up on lush knee-high grass. Instead the pasture looked like a moonscape and with little water for them to drink, the cattle were being shipped off Monday to a buyer in Colorado. The steers represented a year's work and with each being about 100 pounds lighter, Mike didn't expect to make a dime on them.

"It's a bittersweet day, you know?" he said. "It's a day we usually look forward to because this is where we get our paycheck but it's not going to be nearly what we're used to. We're just hoping we get enough to make it through next year."

And he's not the only rancher on the property. His son, Morgan, maintains about 4,000 pasture-raised chickens sold under the name Tomales Bay Pastures. They each drink about a pint of water a day. So Morgan had to buy a 500-gallon trailer to transport water for his flocks from the only remaining pond up the hill.

"It's pretty amazing thinking that it's only early June and we have a long way to go until the rainy season," he said. "So, people are starting to stress."

Giammona is concerned the drought isn't limited just to Marin County or even California. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows the entire southwest portion of the country in or near a state of extreme to exceptional drought. Pat Mulroy, the former GM of the Southern Nevada Water Authority told CBS News she thinks the west is at a tipping point.

"It's an existential issue for Arizona, for California, for Nevada," said Mulroy. "It is just that simple.

It was a simple, yet painful, decision for Giammona to sell his cattle. And as he loaded them into the truck he said he believes every other rancher is doing the same. But rebuilding a herd can take at least three years and with no guarantee of rain next year, Giammona doesn't mind admitting he's scared.

With such a large portion of the West in severe drought, meat producers say supply shortages are possible and that prices will likely rise at least 30 percent at the retail level. Giammona said what this drought is doing to him should be a warning for everyone.

"I think it is," he said. "Yeah, look at us."


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