A commercial destocking intervention was piloted in southern Ethiopia during the drought of early 2006. The intervention led to the purchase of an estimated 20,000 cattle valued at USD 1.01 million. On average, destocked households received USD 186 from the sale of cattle—approximately 5,405 households were involved. In terms of aid investment, the approximate cost—benefit ratio was 41:1. During the drought, income from destocking accounted for 54.2 per cent of household income (n = 114 households), and was used to buy food, care for livestock, meet various domestic expenses, support relatives, and either pay off debts or augment savings. Seventy-nine per cent of the income derived from destocking was used to buy local goods or services. Expenditure on livestock care amounted to 36.5 per cent of local spending, and included the private transportation of livestock to better grazing areas. The buoyant livestock export trade was considered to be an important driver of commercial destocking, demonstrating a positive link between livestock and meat exports, and pastoral vulnerability during drought.