National

Texas cattle ranches suffer in drought

Ranchers around the state are contemplating culling their herds or shipping cattle to Colorado because months of drought have dried up pastures and those with grass may not have water.

A swath of North Texas has escaped the worst conditions because of late spring rains. But 60 percent of the state is in an "exceptional" drought, said Travis Miller of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

"The last eight months have been the driest in the state of Texas since records were first kept in 1895," Miller said by phone from College Station.

Hay stocks are dwindling statewide, with areas such as East Texas and the Coastal Bend drier than others, the extension service reported this week. And trucking costs to bring bales from out of state are rising beyond reach.

"Ranchers are being forced to sell off cattle or invest in more acreage for grazing," it quoted Motley County extension agent Ryan Martin as saying. "With no grazing, no hay supply and supplemental feed prices rising, ranchers have no choice but to sell off or downsize their herds."

Cattle prices are high, but that can cut both ways, producers said. If they sell their breeding cows now, they may have to pay several times the cost to replace them when conditions improve.

"When a rancher sells a cow, he's losing a calf a year for five, six or seven years," said Bill Hyman, executive director of the Lockhart-based Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas. "That part of the future he's never going to get back. The rancher is selling at a salvage price and has to buy back at two, three times higher."

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