Time to put wheels under the herd

Jun 17, 2011
by DTN

More than half of the nation’s cow herd is struggling to survive through a drought that continues to spread across the southern Plains, and now the Southeast. It’s a situation that’s left many producers, especially those in Texas and New Mexico, looking for ways to hang on until it’s time for fall rains to set in.

Many in the livestock industry are encouraging early weaning to help manage the drought conditions by reducing forage needs. Producers are already feeding cattle in areas of Texas and New Mexico. It’s a nasty situation that Ron Gill says can’t be solved by early weaning or any other small shift in man agement.

He’s ready to call it, and he says it’s time for producers in these areas to cull more heavily or liquidate their herds.

“The idea that weaning calves early will reduce the energy needs of a cow to the point where this is a tool for drought management is something we’re really past,” says Gill, livestock specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension. “While it’s true this may reduce some of the pressure on forages, if you’ve still got any forages, it’s putting the wrong focus on the situation.”

Gill says it’s simple, “If you’re in a drought, you need to cull.”

Despite all of the culling that’s taken place this year, Gill says many producers in drought-stricken areas are still overstocked. “It’s very difficult to get producers to cull deep enough, and early enough, to really make it work. We are now at a point where most have gone through their resources and they’re feeding cattle.” The only area in Texas where he says they are not in extreme drought is the northeastern section of the state.

The specialist says he’s beginning to hear of some producers liquidating their herds. Some, he says, may not be back after the crisis is over. Gill says many simply cannot justify hauling feed at today’s prices.

“There are very few op tions right now. I hate to talk about liquidating. I know we need to be building up the herd, but you’ve got to do the math. If you can afford to feed till October, when we might be able to get some forage back here, do it. If you can’t, we’ve got to sell.”

The USDA’s most current drought monitor shows only 21 percent of its southern region to be outside of a drought. That region includes Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. In the Southeast, just 20 percent of the region (Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia) is not in drought conditions. Some 55 percent of the U.S. cow herd resides in these two regions.

As producers move cows to slaughter, rates continue to climb for year-to-date slaughter rates. In the southern Plains, those rates are already 16 percent higher than they were at this time last year. — WLJ