KANSAS CITY (B)--Although Texas ranchers continue to sell cows from their herds because of withering pastures, the pace through 1999 and into 2000 has slowed considerably from 1998's sell-off, market sources said. But it's not because forage conditions have improved; it is just that many cattlemen don't have as many cattle that can go to market.

Jim Gill, market analyst for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, said 1998 took a lot of drought-stressed cattle out of the market. He expected the Jan. 1 USDA cattle inventory report to show a slight decrease in the Texas herd.

Beverly Boyd, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Agriculture, agreed that the state had "not seen a '98-type sell-off" in the cattle herd. There have been sales through 1999 and into January, though. Some even were starting to take heifers that had been targeted for herd replacement to market instead, she said.

Because of the drought conditions, 75 of the state's 254 counties already have received drought disaster declarations from Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, and 11 more are awaiting declaration, Boyd said. Most of the declared disaster areas are in a north-south band running through the central part of the state.

In addition to having fewer cattle to sell, rain last spring allowed a good hay crop in many areas and allowed some producers to keep cattle for a while longer, Boyd said.

Many also have been able to feed imported alfalfa cubes and alternate roughages.

Rainfall last year was well below normal in most areas of the state, and it will take more than one or two rain storms to make up the difference. Data provided by the state Department of Agriculture showed all production districts did not have normal precipitation for the year.

The last quarter of the year was especially dry, with district rainfall amounts falling short of normal by 14% to 58%.

Without relief from the dry conditions soon, some producers are saying another round of active selling could occur by June, trade sources said. Already, the dry weather and the lack of adequate wheat pastures around the state have forced extra cattle into the feedlots when they might otherwise have been kept on pastures during the winter. Some of the heifers eventually could have been turned into cows if the grass had been available.

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