A simple economic model was used to compare the aid costs of two approaches to supporting pastoralist households during drought in Ethiopia. One approach was the use of timely commercial destocking, enabling households to acquire cash through modest livestock sales to private traders, and use of this cash to buy food, and inputs to protect key livestock assets. The other approach was the provision of food aid, meeting household-level food security requirements but with loss of key livestock assets. Post drought, the food aid provision was continued along with restocking. The results showed that the aid cost of commercial destocking was 125 times less expensive than the food aid-restocking option when local food aid was used, and 137 less expensive than imported food aid. Further use and adaptation of the model is proposed to allow analysis of the aid cost of safety net provision.