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Texas drought prompts early livestock sales | New

Prolonged drought conditions in Texas are forcing ranchers to assess and cull their herds earlier than normal this year.

On Saturday, July 9, trailers stretched a mile back and forth from Emory Livestock Auction waiting to sell their livestock. It was the barn auction after the July 4 holiday and attracted 527 sellers, brought 3,494 head of mixed cattle, including 2,763 head of cattle, including 935 breeding stock.

Emory is one of the smallest cattle auction barns in the region, with around 200 head of cattle on a normal sale day. It took about 17 hours to clear the auction block for this sale.

A long period between auctions due to holidays has been one of the contributing factors to long cattle queues, however, prolonged drought conditions, rising cost of feed and fuel and fertilizers have caused some cattlemen to cull their herds earlier than normal this year.

It’s a buyer’s market right now for those with larger farms who can afford to feed until next spring/summer. Currently, prices for heavier feeder calves are strong and slaughter cattle prices are stable.

“It’s like looking into a crystal ball and trying to decide what will have the best outcome,” said Rodney Taylor, a local breeder and feed store owner. “Especially for small cattle farms.”

Even the price of red fuel, diesel fuel used for agricultural and construction equipment that is not taxed, has gone up.

“Red fuel is typically $1.30 less than what you buy at the pump,” Taylor said. “But now it’s only 30 cents cheaper. It’s a huge leap in cost. I used to be able to fill up my tractor for $100 and now I’m spending about $250. That makes the price of the exponentially higher pasture mowing and cutting.

Typically, cattlemen cull their cattle in the fall, weeding out canners, cutters, non-producers, and yearlings. Canners are lean, emaciated cows that have lost muscle mass due to poor nutrition or poor health. Cutters are thin to moderate in flesh.

Culled cows have been identified as older infertile cows, poor producers, non-producers, or poor dams not producing a good enough yearling or producing enough milk for the calf to make a better specimen.

Yearlings are usually sold to feedlots in October or November and feed well through the winter to gain more weight before being sent to the slaughterhouse.

Cattlemen with smaller operations already worry about running out of grass.

Those with smaller stocking ponds may also face water supply problems for their herds.

In a June crop and weather report, AgriLife extension worker Adam Russell said abnormally high temperatures and a lack of rain had worsened drought conditions in east Texas.

According to Russell, pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to fair, subsoil and topsoil conditions were short.

Many growers who were able to get their first cuts of hay had yields well below average. Lack of rain and high fertilizer prices continue to be major concerns.

Joe Paschal, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension livestock specialist, Corpus Christi, and Vanessa Corriher-Olson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension forage specialist in Overton, said the dry weather, high temperatures and reduced inputs like fertilizer have inhibited warm season grass production in much of Texas. The quantity and quality of hay is down, while the cost of producing bales is up and the weather forecast does not look favourable.

Pockets of the state received decent moisture, they said, but high fertilizer prices discouraged hay growers from making applications. Therefore, baled hay was expected to be of lower quality.

Paschal said prices for complementary feeds like range cubes and hay have continued to rise. Range cubes were fetching $400 a ton, while round bales were starting to fetch $75-80. For weeks, AgriLife Extension officers have been reporting bales over $80 in extremely dry areas of the state.

“Some cattlemen in the state have culled their herds deeper to reduce stocking rates and ‘mouths to feed,'” Paschal said. hay supply and below average bale production this season.

“People are baling, but it looks like this hay season could be one cut, maybe two,” he said. “There is hay being fed now, so the hay situation could be tough.”

Most of eastern Texas is experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions, according to the Texas Drought Watch Map produced by the University of Nebraska’s National Drought Mitigation Center. Areas of south-central Texas were mostly experiencing severe and exceptional drought conditions, resulting in major to exceptional crop and pasture losses, as well as widespread water shortages and restrictions.

According to the center, grasses and crop growth are stunted in abnormally dry conditions, and damage begins to show when moderate drought sets in. Extremely high temperatures aggravate the water deficit of plants, including pasture grasses.

Corriher-Olson said weather forecasts suggest Texas will slide further into drought. Weather systems during hurricane season could change that, but producers with pastures should implement contingency plans if they haven’t already.

“I really have no idea how many producers are adjusting their pasture management due to drought and high fertilizer prices,” she said. “It becomes more difficult to avoid overcrowding when fodder production is limited. But that puts a lot of producers in a very difficult situation when they don’t have the hay or the pasture to try to maintain their herd.

Corriher-Olson and Paschal expect hay supplies to be tight and of poor quality heading into winter if conditions don’t reverse soon.

Drought and fertilization — each of these factors alone can harm hay production, Corriher-Olson said, but both at the same time can be disastrous for quality and yields. High temperatures also increase the fiber content of Bermuda grass, making it less digestible for livestock.

Fertilizer prices have softened, Corriher-Olson said, and growers could potentially fertilize ahead of a promising storm system that could provide moisture for a cut. But cuttings are best early and late in the season when temperatures begin to drop.

One East Texas grower she spoke to is forgoing fertilization this summer to invest input costs in producing cool-season forage, she said.

Corriher-Olson said producers should make decisions about stored forages and hay supplies expecting very high bale prices, especially for quality hay, just to cover the cost of bale applications. fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and diesel.

Paschal said growers should plan ways to stretch available nutrition — whether that means finding alternative feeds like cottonseed, buying failed corn crops, or using supplemental feeds with a limiter to reduce the number of trips to feed.

Hay production conditions are better in states east of Texas, he said, and bales should be moved to Texas or cattle should be moved to better pastures. He suggests cattle farmers test the bales for their nutritional value, whether purchased or produced. The tests can provide information that will better guide livestock supplementation, improving the digestibility and nutritional value of this hay.

Producers can contact AgriLife Extension agricultural officers in their county for help with hay testing, Paschal said.

“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “There’s a lot of hay the cows will eat when there’s nothing else, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. There are ways to stretch a cow’s nutritional needs, but the key is getting the right amount of protein and energy in her.

Anderson County Extension Officer Truman Lamb said grasshoppers and Bermuda grass stem maggot are also threats to hay fields this year. Bermuda grass stem maggot is a relatively new pest of Bermuda grass grown for hay. The larva or maggot feeds on the top of the Bermuda grass stem, causing the top one to two leaves to turn brown or white and stunt stem growth. Infested fields are stunted and yield is reduced.

And hay is not the only livestock feed source that could become scarce in the coming months. Lamb said one of the county’s cotton growers said if he doesn’t get rain for the next two weeks, his crop will “go the other way.”

“All of this means future problems for the consumer,” Lamb said.