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Texas = Hell?

Texan

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Well...not really. But it's sure getting hellish.

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Texas crop, weather for Aug. 16, 2011

Forage expert: It's a 'no-brainer;' sell out herds now

AgriLife Today
August 16, 2011 By: Robert Burns

COLLEGE STATION – With little to no grazing and hay, should livestock producers continue to try to buy feed, move cattle to another state or just sell out?

“It would be much less expensive to just get out and come back later,” said Dr. Larry Redmon, Texas AgriLife Extension Service state forage specialist. “And that’s the message that we’re trying to convey.”

Many livestock producers have already tried to cut feeding costs by extensively culling their herds, but have held onto enough cows to rebuild their herds if the drought passes, he said.

In some dry years, that might be a good strategy, but not this one, Redmon said.

“It’s unprecedented,” he said. “(We’ve had) the 12 driest months in Texas history, and there’s just not many ways to combat that.”

With grazing and hay supplies next to non-existent in many areas of the state, it’s getting very expensive to buy feed. On average, it’s costing producers “somewhere around a $100 a month to have these animals (cows) stay in the pasture and feed them,” he said.

Another choice is to move cattle elsewhere, most likely another state during this drought, and lease land where there is grazing, Redmon said.

“It could be western Mississippi; it could be eastern Louisiana; or it could be maybe Missouri,” he said. ‘I haven’t talked to anybody this year, but in the past couple of years people have called me from other states and they’ve quoted prices of $20 to $22 per (cow/calf) pair per month. Even assuming that’s $25 or $30 that’s still a far, far cry from $100 a month.”

Of course, one has to add the cost of hauling a trailer load of cattle to the leased grazing, but even with that added cost it still cheaper than trying to buy hay and feed at today’s prices, he said.

“It’s probably going to be $3 to $3.50 a loaded mile –something like that,” he said. “If you just put all that together … the savings could still be tremendous if a person could find a place to put those animals.”

But completely selling out makes more sense yet, Redmon said, given there’s no guarantee this drought will end anytime soon.

“Some people would counter and say it’ll cost more to come back into the business later because conditions will have improved, and more people will be getting back in,” he said. “That’s true. But again, looking at the difference in what it would cost to buy cows and come back in at some later date — versus what they would spend trying to go through this drought — mathematically, it’s just a no-brainer.”

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/
 

Texan

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Here's a map of the different geographic regions of Texas, along with crop/livestock reports from county agents and extension people in each district:




Central: Northern parts of the district received from 2 to 5 inches of rain, but conditions remained largely unchanged. Sale barns were full each Saturday. Cattle were getting thin. All livestock producers were heavily feeding. Hay and water was in short supply. Farmers continued to harvest crops worth harvesting. Many crops were being zeroed-out for insurance purposes.

Coastal Bend: Though light showers were reported in some areas, extreme drought conditions persisted. The cotton harvest was ongoing. Livestock producers continued to sell off herds due to lack of forage. Most watering ponds were dry. Some water wells were also going dry, and some producers were drilling new ones. Many trees were dying or showing signs of drought stress.

East: No rain was received, and the drought worsened. Water levels in stock ponds and creeks were dangerously low. Many trees were dying or going dormant early. Hay was no longer being harvested. Producers were searching for hay to buy. Out-of-state purchases were becoming more common. Ranchers continued culling and selling off herds. Livestock began to show signs of obvious weight-loss.

Far West: Some areas receive spotty showers. Hot, dry, windy conditions persisted throughout most of region. Rangeland and pastures remained dry, brown and brittle. Landowners were supplying supplemental feed to livestock and wildlife. The danger of wildfire remained high. Pecans were entering the nut-drop stage, but the drop was below average. Producers were concerned about winter grazing and the demand for hay and supplements.

North: Soil moisture was very short over most of the area. Daytime highs of 100-plus degrees and nighttime lows in the mid-80s continued to be the norm. A few areas received some rain, which might improve pastures if they are not overgrazed and given time to regrow. Without rain, most pastures continued to go downhill. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were nearly complete with yields reported to be slightly above average. Soybeans – those that survived the drought — were also being harvested. Some soybeans were cut for hay and the rest were being plowed under. Corn and milo stalks were being harvested as hay and shipped all over the state. Where there was hay, it was being sold before it was cut. Once baled, hay was being loaded on trucks and shipped out before the baler got cold. Most livestock producers were feeding hay and supplements to cattle. With heavy supplemental feeding and short hay supplies, producers continued to cull their herds and were scrambling to find hay for immediate feeding and for winter. Some livestock producers were selling out. Water was becoming a major concern as ponds were getting very low. Hay producers hoped for late August or September rains so they could possibly produce one more cutting. Trees were dying from the record heat and lack of rain for over 60 days in most areas. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor.

Panhandle: Most of the region received scattered showers and cooler weather. Accumulations ranged from a trace to 1.5 inches. The rain and cooler weather was welcomed, but it was not enough moisture to help the very thirsty crops. Soil moisture levels remained very short. Irrigators were watering full swing trying to keep up with water demands. Gray County received hail along with the rain, which stripped the leaves off some cotton and corn. Also, high winds toppled six pivots in that county. The rain greened up some pastures, but more was needed to really make a difference in the very poor conditions. However, the cooler weather did ease water needs and heat stress on cattle. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. Producers who were trying to hang on to their cattle were buying hay form other states, with hauling costs running $20-$30 per ton.

Rolling Plains: Rain! But the amount varied greatly from county to county. Throckmorton County received from 0.5 inch to 3 inches of rain, while Stephens County received from 0.5 inch to 5 inches. Haskell County received as much as 2.8 inches. Other counties received from 0.1 to 0.8 inch. However, the majority of counties did not receive any measurable moisture. The rain was no help for cotton producers, though it did help wheat growers who would like to plant in September. More moderate temperatures, especially nighttime lows, helped relieve stress on livestock. Cotton was fruiting, but even under heavy watering, fields still looked weak. Producers were weaning and selling calves. Some producers are selling or shipping their cows to out-of-state grazing. Hay was scarce and expensive when available. A few hay producers hoped to have a late-summer cutting. Large trees were beginning to show the effects of too little moisture.

South: Record-high temperatures continued. In Webb County, temperatures of 104 and higher were reported. Some daytime highs reached 108 or even 110 degrees. Rangeland and pastures further declined, forage supplies and stock-tank water levels dropped. Many livestock water tanks had already completely dried out. In Live Oak County, there were record numbers of livestock sales at sale barns. The heaviest livestock culling was taking place in Webb and Zavala counties, where ranchers have completely run out of water resources. Also, feed sources in those counties were very scarce. The western portion of Frio County received 0.5 to 1 inch of rain. Also in that Frio County, the corn harvest was completed, the cotton harvest began and the sorghum harvest was ongoing. Most crops in Jim Wells County were harvested, and fields were ready for fall and winter preparations. In Zavala County, farmers were preparing land for cabbage and spinach planting, and pecan producers were irrigating orchards in the critical kernel-development stage. In Hidalgo County, the cotton harvesting was winding down. In Starr County, farmers were planting sugarcane and fall vegetables. In Willacy County, harvesting of late-planted cotton continued.

South Plains: Some areas received as much as 3 inches of rain. Others got none. The remaining cotton is from two weeks to a month ahead of schedule; and the final stages of flowering or in cut-out. In other areas, cotton was shedding bolls and squares from lack of water. Of the 42,000 cotton acres planted in Garza County, only 8,000 remained. Many producers were planning on an early harvest. High temperatures dropped into the 90s. Most counties were still under burn bans. Some growers chose to dig and harvest peanut vines for hay due to the low pegging rate. White grapes in Yoakum County were harvested, and red grapes were expected to be ready by the end of August. Cattle producers were selling off herds because of shortages of grass, hay and water.

Southeast: The extreme drought did not budge. The month of July closed with a nearly 22-inch rainfall deficit for the year in some parts of the region. Some areas had scattered showers. Grain sorghum and rice fields were being baled and sold for livestock forage. Early July had brought some light rains that allowed for re-growth of grain sorghum. But tests showed very high prussic acid levels. People feeding this forage to livestock were cautioned to test all sorghum grass species before grazing or feeding as hay. Pond levels continued to drop. The condition of cattle continued to decline with the as pastures worsened. Cattle sales were up. Some infestation of red rice was reported in the rice crop.

Southwest: Sporadic showers brought 1 inch to 2 inches of rain to some areas, but most of the region remained completely dry. High afternoon winds created dust storms. Record high or near-record high temperatures of over 100 degrees aggravated the drought. The region remains in wildfire-alert status. Many stock tanks were dry. Forage availability remained well below average for this time of the year. The cotton, watermelon and cantaloupe harvests were all ongoing. Some farmers planted sweet corn for an early fall harvest. Peanuts, pecans and landscape nursery crops continued to make good progress wherever irrigation water was still available. Ranchers were providing supplemental feed for livestock.

West Central: Extremely hot, dry conditions continued. Wildfire dangers remained very high. Some areas reported scattered showers, but not enough moisture was received to make a difference. The heat has destroyed almost everything planted, including gardens. Rangeland and pastures were in poor condition. Trees in pastures were dying at an alarming rate. Stock-water tanks were very low or completely dry. Ranchers were hauling water to most livestock. Hay supplies were very limited. Producers continued to cull livestock herds. More and more livestock producers are selling out.
 

Texan

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Dry Tanks Force Drastic Action
On Muleshoe And Spade Ranches

By John Bradshaw

GAIL, Texas — Across the state and beyond, ranchers are being forced to move, cull or even liquidate their herds due to drouth. Grass is a problem for most, and some are now running out of water.

Muleshoe Ranch shipped everything recently, a move forced by short grass but mostly by a lack of tank water. The ranch is located in Borden County, much of which has little or no groundwater. Ranches there rely on tank water, and for the first time in memory, those tanks are dry.

John Anderson, who along with family owns Muleshoe Ranch, was told by his dad, Rich Anderson, that those tanks did not even go dry in the famous drouth of the 1950s. Back then everyone ran out of grass, but never water.

The ranch has approximately 50 tanks that are now completely dry. The rest have some water left but are all boggy. Anderson said they pulled about 40 head of cattle out of the mud this summer and lost 15.

Most of Anderson’s neighbors are in the same shape and have either weaned early, culled deep or sold out. Some places on the western edge of the county have water wells, but even those ranches are in bad shape.

“I know everybody has been pretty busy getting rid of cattle,” Anderson said.

Even if Muleshoe Ranch had wells, Anderson said they would have been shipping soon anyway. The grass is short and has no nutritional value.

The ranch itself did not own any of the cattle that were running there. Anderson personally owns some, and the rest belong to Spade Ranch and Anderson took care of them.

Fortunately, none of the cattle were sold. Most went to pastures in Colorado and New Mexico. The trucking was tough, Anderson said, at $3.70-4 per mile.

Grazing was hard to find, so some of the cattle had to go to a feedlot. Those cattle are on a maintenance ration and will be the first to come home when it finally rains.

The only thing left on the place now is the bulls and horses. If things do not improve soon, the bulls will be leaving, followed by the horses.

“We’re just hoping it rains between now and fall so we can come back. If it doesn’t, then I don’t know what we’ll do,” Anderson said.

The cattle might be moved to cornstalks, he went on, or they might have to be sold.

Anderson has not kept track of exactly how much rain has fallen lately, saying there has not been enough to keep track of. Since the first of last October, though, he said they have only received about seven-tenths of an inch.

Even though some good rains have fallen over the last few years, they were all slow grass rains. Last summer four inches fell on Muleshoe Ranch at one time, but it came so slowly that none made it to the tanks. Anderson could not say exactly how much is needed to fill the tanks now.

“It’s going to take multiple inches, depending on how hard it falls. Then it’s going to take multiple inches falling slow, to soak into the ground, so we can replenish our ground moisture.”

If it began raining right now, Anderson said, the cattle could come back sometime this fall. Otherwise it will be next spring, if it rains before then.

“It needs to rain for days. We need a hurricane,” Anderson said.

If there is a silver lining to this, Anderson said, it is the high cattle market. His dad advised that when cattle get on the truck in this situation, someone else needs to own them. However, he admitted that during the ‘50s drouth he sold cattle for seven cents per pound.

Cattle numbers are already low, and most of the cows going to town now are being killed. Anderson is looking for high prices when it does rain, which is a reason the cattle were moved instead of sold. He does not know if anyone can afford to restock later if they sell out now.

This drouth has been hard on Muleshoe Ranch’s wildlife, too. Anderson has seen some quail, and even some chicks, but all the wildlife are extremely poor.

“The deer look like hell. The antelope look like hell. It’s just miserable to see them,” Anderson said.

Spade Ranch has six locations scattered from West Texas to the Panhandle, and while Muleshoe Ranch has been the hardest hit, all of them have been drastically affected.

Wesley Welch, Spade Ranch assistant manager, said the theory has been that if one ranch was dry, typically at least one of the others was getting rain.

“This year that’s not the case. They’re all just about as dry as the others,” Welch said.

Muleshoe Ranch has been affected more than the others because of the lack of water. Renderbrook, near Colorado City, has water problems that caused them to vacate about half that ranch.

The other four ranches have wells, so there is water, but the grass is short and dry.

So far the only culling has been older cows, and those have been sold without even preg-checking them. They are going to the packers anyway, Welch knows.

The yearling replacement heifers will still be pregged, but earlier than usual. Any found to be open will be sold as feeders, and Welch said they may even look into selling some bred heifers.

Ordinarily, Spade Ranch weans calves in the middle of October, but this year weaning began in mid-July. Calves were sent to a grow yard weighing 400-425 pounds and will be sold when they hit their usual market weight of 650 pounds.

So in addition to the usual costs of getting those calves to 650 pounds, which the ranch is still paying in leases and labor, there are the added costs of freight and feed. Welch is figuring on roughly $1 per pound gain.

“So that’s going to be about $250 a head that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Welch said.

Spade Ranch has drouth insurance on all its holdings, and Welch said payments were received on every ranch. The Alpine ranch was figured at zero percent of normal.

“We were believers in the drouth insurance program, and I am thankful we were able to sign up every acre we lease or own, because we are incurring a lot more cost than we would in a normal year. That has been a blessing,” Welch said.

Winter feed is now a concern on all the ranches, but the northern locations are of particular concern because they do not grow much winter grass even when it is wet.

“Winter feed is a concern, because even if it starts raining right now, we won’t grow much summer grass, and there is no winter grass to grow up there,” Welch said.

So they are looking at moving more cattle, perhaps farther north if grass can be found, or to cornstalks. The final move would be to sell cows, but the ranch does not want to lose its genetics, or buy back when it finally does rain.

“Because we all know what the price of that cow is going to be when it does start raining. That’s not very appealing to us,” Welch said.


http://www.livestockweekly.com/papers/11/08/11/
 

Silver

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I sure feel for everyone in the middle of drought. I came as close as I ever want to see last year and apparently that was nothing compared to what you folks in Texas are dealing with.
 

Nicky

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That has got to be one of the saddest posts I've read in a long time! :( We have had bad droughts and are never far from one...but not like that. My prayers are with everyone who is suffering from this drought!
 

leanin' H

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My thoughts are with you all as well. Water is a huge part of all our lives and operations. Without enough, it is sure tough to go on.
 

eatbeef

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I hope we never experience the severity of the drought in Texas and Oklahoma. Feel for all of you. Very tough decisions, but why buy hay at these high prices and keep the cows when they are still selling at good prices? I would rather sell the cows and save the ranch, rather than risk losing it all.
 

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