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Aug 15, 2012 7:00 PM by Erika Flores / Jake Merriman

Drought affecting local cattle ranchers

TUCSON - It's the worst drought in half a century. It's affecting everything from the cost of produce to meat and gas, and now, the sky-high corn prices are affecting local ranchers.

The average steer at Red Rock Feeding eats 20 pounds of feed a day, and with a bushel of corn now over $8, feed yards are feeling the strain.

David Cook is the assistant manager at Red Rock Feeding where the money maker is buying steer and feeding them until they are nice and plump, then selling them to slaughterhouses.

"Corn prices are up 40 percent over a year ago, and that adds about 20 percent to my overall cost of the feeding for the cattle," Cook said.

Dry conditions have also eroded cow herd numbers, so the price of cattle is also up. "It's probably added about 25 percent to my overall cost of operation here," Cook said.

Just six months ago, Cook was buying the corn for feed at about $5 a bushel. Now he is spending over $8. Cook says he may have to shorten the length of time that he feeds the cattle.

A steer stays at Red Rock Feeding for an average of 265 days to feed. Cook says he might have to cut that down to ten days, but cutting back too much could affect the quality of the meat.

This drought is also a headache for ranchers. Cattle are scarce because there's just not enough water to go around. As the drought continues, water gets pricey as well. Tyler Weiss says that compared to five years ago, water prices have tripled.

NBC News has been covering the national impact of the Drought of 2012 - click here for their complete coverage.

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