By Curt Thacker
KANSAS CITY (B)--Many cattle and sheep producers in the drought-stricken areas of the U.S. Plains are hauling water and in some cases supplemental feed to their animals. Normally, pastures and ponds would adequately provide the feed and water needed by the animals, but those have dried up under relentless heat and extended days without rainfall. Some cattle producers are now culling more than normal from their cows herds or selling heifers they had retained earlier to add to their breeding herds.
Steve Munday, executive vice president with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said members of that organization are either contemplating liquidation or have started heavy culling. He said if there is no appreciable rain in the next 30 days, he is afraid the auction markets are going to be inundated with cattle.
Munday said the Texas Department of Agriculture has its hay hot line up and running but he had not heard of any widespread shortages. The biggest problem in the region is water for the animals to drink. Ponds and tanks are dry, and lake levels are down significantly. Ranchers who have working windmills are using them.
M.R. (Mike) Wirtz, veterinarian with the TZ Cattle Co. in Washington County, about 100 miles east of Austin, TX, said there has been no significant rain in the area for more than 60 days. Pastures are burned up and cattle are receiving supplemental feed much the same as in January.
Calves normally kept as stockers and pre-conditioned for the feedlot have been sold, and replacement heifers are being prepared for sale, Wirtz said. All old, poor breeding and marginal performing animals are being culled. This culling is usually done in the spring when prices are historically higher but the gain will be lost in supplemental feeding.
The immediate concern is water, Wirtz added. Stock tanks are or have already dried up, and the strain on water wells is increasing. The loss of a well at this time would present an emergency condition and water for 600 animals would have to be hauled.
"If there is no rain in the next 30 days, I will have to cull deeper into the herd, start buying supplemental feed, find grazing out of state or liquidate a 30-year-old herd," Wirtz said.
Conditions also have worsened for cattle producers in Kansas, where 24 of the state's 105 counties have been approved for emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acreage. Dennis Gaschler, program specialist with the conservation division of the Kansas Farm Service Agency, said the areas with the most severe conditions are along the Colorado and Nebraska borders, with pockets in north-central and east-central Kansas.
The areas north of Interstate 70 have been hardest hit. Most counties in southern Kansas received timely rainfall earlier in the summer, but sources said those areas are closing the gap fa st due to high temperatures and lack of rainfall recently. Good hay production in southern sections of the state earlier in the summer should provide enough forage supply for cattle producers there through the fall and winter.
Gaschler said he has heard reports of some culling of animals. As every day passes with the hot and dry conditions, cattle producers are that much closer to supplemental feeding. Some ranchers in the most affected areas are moving cattle to other ranges, but the options are running thin because most of the region has been hit with temperatures near 100 or above for several days with no appreciable rainfall in the past 30 or more days.
Todd Domer, director of communications, Kansas Livestock Association, said there are grazers in the Flint Hills that have shipped cattle two weeks to one month earlier than normal. These cattle will probably just go to the feedyard sooner than anticipated.
Pond water supplies in Kansas are quickly dwindling. In some cases, that is of greater concern than pasture conditions, Domer said. Some producers who have already purchased light cattle to feed through the winter are providing supplemental feed in cases where the cattle would usually be on grass. There are some producers weaning calves and culling cows early. Culling will be deeper than usual. With some corn already cut due to dry conditions, a few producers are running cows on stalks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics division reported Aug. 28 that pasture and range condition in Nebraska declined. The agency rated pastures there as 50% very poor, 33% poor, 14% fair and 3% good. Producers continued to move cattle around or off pastures, and many are providing supplemental hay or protein. And, some are moving cattle to market.
Sources there said they have heard reports that some farmers and ranchers are selling heifers that had been retained earlier to be added to the cow herd. Also, some corn and soybean acreage is being grazed, cut for hay or chopped for silage in an effort to salvage some feed value from the crops.
Some relief may be in the works next week, according to BridgeNews Global Weather Services. The rain event has the potential to become one of the better events in weeks, bringing relief to dryness in parts of the central and southern Plains as well as the Delta. More heat and dryness will return at mid-month, but cooling is probable for the Plains and Delta, GWS forecast.