Drought conditions in Texas are so bad cattle are keeling over in parched pastures and dying.
Drought conditions worsened significantly in the past week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday. Seventy-one percent of the state is now in some stage of drought, up from 58.3 percent last week.
A week ago the two worst drought designations — extreme and exceptional — covered 9.1 percent of the state. This week the two categories cover 15.1 percent of the state, with a circle near San Antonio and Austin widening in all directions. Only the eastern and southeastern parts of Texas are without any drought status.
It all results in death for dozens of cows in Bastrop, south of Austin. At Dr. Lee Davis' veterinarian clinic, up to 10 cows a week have been brought in for treatment over the past month. They fell in pastures from weakness due to lack of grazing forage, and most didn't survive, Davis said.
"The problem is they're not getting enough energy because the grass is dead," Davis said. "Everywhere you go there's no grass. It's nothing but dirt."
Once a cow falls, bloodflow to muscles is diminished and chances of survival go down with time.
"It's hard to bring back a cow after it's been down for a couple of days," Davis said.
Even when given supplemental feed, some animals are left weak.
Lack of rainfall this past fall and into 2009 has left pastures barren. Cattle producers are instead feeding animals hay.
But there is a shortage of protein in some hay because some hay producers don't pay the high cost of fertilizer, which aids in building protein. Fertilizer prices are tied to natural gas prices.
Rachel Bauer, Texas AgriLife Extension agent for Bastrop County and a part-time rancher, has lost seven cows in the past six weeks.
"There is no outlook for any rainfall coming," she said.
The cause is a La Nina weather pattern settling over the central Pacific Ocean, bringing with it the likelihood of below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures.
Some cattle have gotten hurt trying to get water from drying stock ponds.
They seek out the ponds despite water troughs being set out, said Troy Tiner, who ranches in counties that include Bastrop, Travis, Fayette and Hays. He also puts out protein cubes to ensure his cattle get the proper nutrition.
"We keep them fed, but the killer is when they get stuck in mud holes," he said. "That's the biggest problem of everything."
Cattle producers are culling their animals and pulling cattle off pastures and arranging for supplement feed. Those planting crops this time of year are waiting for moisture.
The state has been drying out for several months. In late October, 71.3 percent of the state had no drought designation.
The parched land will respond if Mother Nature comes through.
"It's just amazing what a little rain will do," Tiner said. "Just a little bit of rain."