The drought plaguing the Southern Plains has garnered national attention this summer. As pastures have burnt up and hay supplies depleted, ranchers have been forced to severely cull or disperse their cowherds. This drought will play a key role in the cattle markets in the months to come, and unless you are living through the drought, I think it’s difficult to comprehend just what these folks are going through. So, BEEF Senior Associate Editor Jamie May started asking for first-person input, and in today’s blog, I share two rancher testimonies about the drought, as well as a photography album featuring drought photos from Texas ranchers.
Please, send your drought photos to email@example.com, and she will add yours to the photo album. Read what fellow ranchers have to say below.
Laura Molitor writes:
“The drought of 2011 is really taking a toll on my ranch, just like everyone else here in Texas. My stock tanks, thank goodness, have held out but are getting worse each day. Soon an old water well on my place will have to be set up just to get fresh water to my herd. Usually by now, I have had three cuttings of hay. This year, I haven’t even had one. Luckily, I have had a few good years of hay cutting and had my barns full. But, that has been depleted along with a constant feeding of meal.
“During the winter months, we expect to feed hay out of the barns; that is why we put it up. But, in the spring, we usually switch from hay and meal to our pastures. That won’t be the case this year. The winter feeding schedule is still in full swing, and we still have the rest of the summer to make it through. Even though I have been able to acquire some round bales, I’m still in need of more to make it through until next spring. Because of this, there are people out there taking advantage of ranchers like me; which makes it hard on all of us to keep our cattle through a disaster such as this.
“I’ve come a long way to get here. My parents started a dairy in 1970, and I went into it in 1984 after high school. Then in 1986, my dad died, and my mom and I continued to run the dairy. We also were able to get into the beef cattle business — something we both had always wanted. We only enjoyed it together for a few short years until she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I had to sell out the dairy in 2006. Now, I’m trying to hang on to our cattle business. I know generations before us had hard times, too, so I guess we will make it through this somehow.
“With so many ranchers having to sell their herds in my area because of the rising cost of feed and hay along with the depleting supply of water, I am still trying to hold on. Hold on to the way of life my father and mother chose. A way of life I love. A way of life that is as fickle as Mother Nature. Of whom we as ranchers depend on. We don’t have a nine-to-five job. Ours is from can to can’t. Depending on weather patterns, calf crops and a good market.”
Melissa Laurent adds:
“We are in northeast Texas — normally a major hay production area. Things have been so bad we have seen people baling the right of way and taking it right in the pasture to feed. Most of the hay that people are feeding now is being brought in from Missouri or Kansas. It is very expensive, and most folks have no idea where they will get the hay to get through the winter. I have calls or emails daily asking me for hay contacts. Every week we go without rain the higher the price gets, too. Square bales went up a dollar a week ago, and another dollar this week. I hear most are paying between $8-9.50/bale. There has also been some really poor-quality hay brought into our area but people are buying it anyway; they have no choice.
“We sold a couple of head early on; we just culled what we could. We have been feeding hay since early June and recently switched to square bales, which requires more labor on our part, but we can better ration the hay that way. We got 2.2 in. of rain in June and less than 1 in. in July. Many places in Texas have had less. There have been numerous fires in our area as of late, but so far we haven’t been affected by fire. We still have water in our pond for the cattle to drink only because it is spring-fed. Most folks in our area have mudholes or ponds that are completely dried up.
“We share a fence with the sale barn here. It has been just awful to see the massive herd dispersals. Trucks and trailers continue to line up along the highway waiting to unload cattle. I can sit in my backyard with binoculars and see the cattle in the pens–not just crossbred commercial cattle but nice F1 mamma cows with calves already bred back and beautiful purebred registered cattle, too. The worst sale was about a month ago. They start selling at noon. When I went to bed that night they were still selling, and when I woke up the next morning they were still at it! This is very sad. Over 3,000 head were sold that day, and they have had several 2,500-head sales since then. I keep thinking there can’t be any more left to sell, but they keep coming. The condition of the cattle coming to the sale has greatly decreased every week. You can tell folks were holding on to them thinking we would get some rain, and we didn’t.
“We are just trying to maintain what we have and have worked pretty hard to keep our body condition scores where they should be. Normally this time of year, we have lots of grass and are putting up hay. We have never been so thankful for the heat tolerance and scavenger-type grazing ability of our Brahman cattle. Even in this awful heat, I see them out working trying to find something to eat. I keep thinking sooner or later it has to rain.”
Do you have a testimony to send our way? Share with us! How are you weathering the drought? How will the dispersals impact cattle markets come fall? What words of encouragement can you offer these folks fighting valiantly to save their businesses? Don't forget to send your photos and testimonials to Jamie at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will continue to provide coverage of the drought as updates are sent in!