It is not a good time to be a cattle rancher in South Texas. As you might imagine, the ongoing drought has had a devastating impact on that industry.
Put simply, the lack of rain means there's just not enough green grass to feed the cattle. It has forced many ranchers to sell their herds and get out of the business.
In fact, industry experts say it's as bad now as it's ever been. Actually, it has never been this bad.
"There's never been anything like this before," said John Freeman, Jr., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "There's never been so many cattle shipped out of South Texas, and Texas as a whole. If a guy's got 20-percent of what he had to start off, he's done well, because it's really been traumatic."
Scott Frazier, a cattle rancher at Chapman Ranch has had to liquidate 75-percent of his herd. His pasture is gone. There is simply not enough grass to feed the cattle, and that means ranchers have had to cut back where they can, and make some very tough choices.
"This year, there was a lot of cattle that were in good shape," Frazier said. "Age was fine. Everything was okay about them, and they were pregnant and bred back, so it's a cow you would never consider getting rid of. You just always keep those. But this year, we didn't have any choices. We had to make some choices, of who could stay and who couldn't, and we got rid of a lot of pregnant cattle."
Frazier estimates his pasture growth so far this year is only about 25-percent of what it would normally be. He tried to grow hay himself, but that didn't work because of the lack of rain. He does use hay, protein cubes and even grain sorghum stubble to try and supplement what the cattle eat, but those things simply don't have the nutrients that healthy green grass contains.
Frazier said he's been a cattle rancher for 30 years, but he may have to give it up or only do it as a hobby.
The price of restocking his herd is where things get tricky. He and lots of other ranchers are going to have to face those decisions. Do they take out a loan? Is it worth it? And for older ranchers, they may not have the years left to reconstitute their herds and pastures.
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