End of the Open Range and the "beef bonanza"

The Open Range period of ranching cattle came to a sudden end in 1887. This was due to the fact that there was too much competition for the grassland. By 1886, 7.5 million head of cattle were being raised on the Great Plains. Cattlemen fought with sheepmen over control of the range. And thousands of farmers were stringing up miles and miles of barbed wire to protect their 160 acre homesteads. With grass on the low due to increased competition and a dry summer, cattle grew weak in 1886. That following winter was one of the harshest remembered on the plains. Heavy snowfall made it difficult for cattle to reach the remaining grasses. Millions died that winter. So many that the cowboys called the spring of 1887 "The Great Die-Up." Ranchers would now have to rely on the homesteaders to grow the grains needed to feed the herds of cattle being raised on the plains.