South Texas drought hurting cattle ranchers

Posted at 5:24 AM, Jun 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-07 06:24:07-04

It’s so hot and dry here in South Texas, it is starting  to make ranchers worry about their livestock. 

Many of them are struggling with the effects of drought, leading some to consider reducing their cattle numbers. 

The drought conditions, coupled with a depleted hay supply, have left ranchers without feed and with little hope for a good hay crop this summer. 

The year 2011 had one of the most intense droughts in Texas. Now some cattle ranchers in the Coastal Bend are beginning to worry that they’re seeing indicators of conditions that may rival 2011, and that is not good, when they are trying to feed their cattle. 

"A lot of people are looking for hay, trying to find hay, and it is not out there to be had. A great deal of Texas is in a drought, and you have to go farther and wider to get it, or you have to start selling cattle," said cattle rancher Daniel Wendland. 

The lack of food and water is forcing some local cattle ranchers to sell part of their herd. 

"Basically, we had two good years, and we ramped up and got our herd population up to the maximum for each pasture, and it can no longer sustain that number so they are to go out there and start selling cattle, and doing what has to be done to maintain the genetics they want to keep," said Wendland. 

The persistence of the drought has many livestock producers, who have been waiting for rain, running out of options. 

"You just take a long-term outlook to where you realize that, generally, we are going to have a year or two of drought; we are going to have a year or two of rain. It’s the way the weather system seems to be working right now,"said Wendland. 

"There are different things that go on in a rancher’s mind when these droughts come on. Most of them have done it before and kind of know what they want to do and where they want to end up," said San Patricio County Agrilife Extension Agent Bobby McCool. 

While the rush of cattle to auctions probably won’t have an immediate impact on U.S. meat supplies, some of the ranchers who are being forced to sell their animals early or pay more for feed may see their incomes suffer. 

"With the drought the way it is and the cattle prices, we are kind of seeing a true type of supply and demand situation. The demand for cattle is low because there are no sources to feed them. So as the demand goes down, so does the price. It’s a simple supply and demand scenario," said McCool. 

As hay becomes increasingly rare, the price for a bale has doubled in South Texas, from about $40 last year to $70-$100 this year.