COLLEGE STATION — Faced with lack of grazing, dwindling hay supplies and shrinking surface water sources, livestock producers continue to cull deeper into herds, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.
“They’re culling a lot deeper than they normally would, and they’re culling a lot harder than they normally would,” said Rick Hirsch, AgriLife Extension agent for Henderson County, west of Tyler. “And they’re culling into the heart of their herds.”
By “heart of their herds,” Hirsch meant heifers and three- to six-year-old cows that should form the core of future production.
Producers are also selling calves early.
In Henderson County, sales have been in the range of 2,500 to 3,000 head per week at the Athens Commission Co., he said. During an average year in July, weekly sales counts should be more like 1,600 to 2,000 head.
“Statewide, I’ve been hearing huge numbers from auction markets in Central and West Central Texas,” Hirsch said. “The numbers have been astronomical for this time of year.”
According to reports from AgriLife Extension personnel in the Rolling Plains, area sale barns were turning people away because their sales were running so long.
On June 25 in Van Zandt County, east of Dallas, ranchers sold 825 head and 1,655 head on July 9, according to Tommy Phillips, Agrilife Extension agent for Van Zandt County.
It will take years to rebuild these herds, Hirsch noted.
“Partly because of the sheer numbers being culled, and the other (factor) is the higher cost of production,” Hirsch said. “We have higher cattle prices right now, and that is helping the situation. But the high cost of replacements, the cost of fertilizer and the cost of fuel — all will make it harder to build numbers back up.”
To help producers make better culling decisions, Henderson County will host a training on Aug. 22 in Athens titled “Managing the Effects of Drought for Beef Producers.” For more information contact Hirsch at 903-675-6130.
Other training programs and 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/ .
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central:Pasture conditions went from bad to worse. Producers were selling off cows. Water supplies for livestock were becoming critical. Stock-water tanks were drying up across the region. As expected because of the drought, sorghum and corn yields were low.
Coastal Bend: Extremely dry conditions with above-normal temperatures prevailed. The cotton and soybean harvests were under way. Grain sorghum and corn yields were low due to the drought. Livestock producers were feeding hay. Most producers thinned herds. Stock-water tanks continued to dry up.
East: Triple-digit temperatures and no measurable rainfall continued to plague the region. Some areas had scattered showers, but not enough moisture was received to relieve the worsening conditions. Creek and stock-pond levels continued to drop. Producers in a few areas, such as Cherokee County, began to haul in water for livestock. With the current situation and conditions, some producers were considering selling off all of their remaining cattle. Hay for sale was becoming rare. Hay and vegetable production halted. Grasshopper reports remained high. There were some reports of feral hogs and armyworms.
Far West: The region received from 0.3 inch to 1.4 inches of rain, but very hot and dry conditions persisted. Irrigated cotton began to bloom. Dryland cotton failed. Pastures were in terrible condition. Burn bans remained in effect.
North: A severe drought settled into the region. Soil-moisture levels ranged from short to very short throughout the region. The summer heat and dry weather continued to take their toll on small grains, pastures and hay crops. Over the past couple of weeks, corn dried down and turned color very quickly. Those areas that were fortunate enough to receive some rainfall in June will have corn, grain sorghum and soybean harvests. Elsewhere, soybeans were being baled, but the harvest looked very bleak. Corn was being harvested for silage, but yields were low. The oat and winter wheat harvests were completed. Cotton was in fair condition, and sunflower planting was completed. Pastures were being rapidly depleted. With only one good cutting of hay and the decline of pastures, livestock producers were having to decide to sell calves early or cull cows. Supplemental feeding was very heavy. Stock ponds were getting very low. Bermuda grass became dormant and stopped growing. Some prussic acid poisoning was reported on Johnson grass. Grasshopper populations were increasing and becoming a major problem. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to very poor condition.
Panhandle: The weather remained hot, dry and windy. A few isolated areas reported receiving from 0.6 inch to 2 inches of rain. Soil-moisture levels were very poor. Irrigators continued to heavily water all crops. Corn was was in poor to very poor condition, stressed from the drought and an increase in spider mites and western bean cutworms. Many producers were diverting irrigation to fewer acres and abandoning some crops, such as corn, because of the high water demands. Cotton was in poor to very poor condition in most counties. Rangeland and pasture conditions were in poor to very poor condition with most reporting very poor. Producers continued to provide supplemental feed to livestock.
Rolling Plains: Childress and Wilbarger counties reported about 1 inch of rain, but overall the region remained extremely dry. The daytime highs have been 100 degrees or hotter with no letup in sight. Cotton producers were trying to keep their crops from failing by running pivots constantly. Cattle producers tried to maintain cattle condition by feeding extra hay and cubes. As the drought intensified, more producers were culling deeper into their herds. Producers were having a hard time finding hay. Some producers were worried about cattle consuming pastures with Johnson grass because of the risk of prussic acid and nitrate poisoning. Johnson grass was about the only green growth in many pastures. The wildfire danger continued to be high.
South: Very short soil-moisture levels were the rule throughout the region. The only counties with adequate soil moisture conditions were Willacy County with 65 percent and Cameron County with 100 percent. Rangeland and pastures were bone dry, and surface water was quickly evaporating because of 100-plus degree days. Many ranchers did not have enough surface water for cattle. Wildlife were also suffering from lack of water. Much water that was available was very saline and not healthful for cattle or wildlife. What cattle remained that were not culled were in fair condition with heavy supplemental feeding. In Frio County, growers began harvesting corn and reported average yields. In Jim Wells County, most corn, milo and sunflower fields were harvested. Corn harvesting also began in Zavala County. Corn and sorghum in that area quickly dried down because of extremely hot temperatures, and irrigated cotton began setting bolls.
South Plains: Parts of the region received scattered rain, with accumulations mostly only a few hundreds of an inch, but as much as 1.5 inches fell in isolated areas. Irrigated cotton was in the first week of bloom in some counties. Producers were still selling off cattle due to drought and lack of supplemental feed. Peanuts were stressed, pegging two to three weeks late.
Southwest: The National Weather Service continued to forecast a gradual weather improvement, but very little rainfall was received. Scattered rains accompanied by wind with gusts up to 50 mph damaged trees, fences and roofs. However, only about a third of an inch of moisture was received, and the region remained very dry and under wildfire alerts. The onion and sunflower harvests were completed. The corn, sorghum and grape harvests were ongoing. The watermelon, cantaloupe and sweet corn harvests began to wind down. Peanuts, cotton, pecans and landscape nursery crops continued to make good progress wherever irrigation water was still available. Forage availability remained well below average. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feed to livestock.
West Central: Extremely hot, dry and windy conditions continued with no relief in sight. Irrigated corn was harvested for silage. Some irrigated Bermuda grass hay fields were cut and baled, but yields were below normal due to the excessive heat. Row crops and planted pastures were becoming extremely drought stressed. Many fields were zeroed out by insurance adjusters. Cotton and grain sorghum needed rain soon. Rangeland and pastures had very little forage left for livestock to graze. Most grasses were dormant. Stock-water tanks were going dry, forcing producers to haul water for cattle. Producers continue to liquidate their herds. Some were selling out.