Discuss as:

US ranchers struggle to keep cattle alive

Rancher Gary Wollert feeds hay to his cattle near Eads, Colo., Aug. 23, 2012. Like many ranchers who's grasslands have dried up due to the drought, Wollert has to supplement his cattle's diet with hay, now at record prices, to keep them alive.

John Moore / Getty Images — The nation's severe drought has been especially hard on cattlemen, made worse when Congress recessed for five weeks without passing disaster relief legislation. Most of the high plains areas of eastern Colorado and virtually all of Nebraska and Kansas are still in extreme or exceptional drought, despite recent lower temperatures, according to the University of Nebraska's Drought Monitor. The record-breaking drought, which has affected more than half of the continental U.S., is expected to drive up food prices by 2013 due to lower crop harvests and the adverse effect on the nation's cattle industry.

Rancher Gary Wollert inspects a dead cow on dry grasslands near Eads, Colo., Aug. 22. Many cattle in the area have contracted respiratory infections due to the wide temperature swings in this summer's heat wave and drought. While most cases have been cured, some have been fatal.

Cattle buyers wait to bid during a livestock auction at the Burlington Livestock Exchange in Burlington, Colo., Aug. 23.

A message is written on a restaurant sign in Burlington, Colo., Aug. 23. The ongoing drought has devastated the area's agricultural economy, but also affected a broad spectrum of businesses across the plains.

Drought conditions plague much of the United States after a summer of scorching temperatures and a lack of rain. The dryness is affecting America's farmland, threatening crops like soybean and corn.

Sign up for the NBCNews.com Photos Newsletter