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Texas cattle survey: Most ranchers culling herd

Betsy Blaney, The Associated Press Published on 24 September 2011

LUBBOCK, Texas -- No Texas ranchers plan to leave the cattle business as the state's worst one-year drought on record persists but 8 percent say they won't have any animals next year, according to a survey released Tuesday by Texas' largest livestock group.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association got responses from fewer than 10 percent of the 8,995 ranchers in the nation's leading production state contacted to do the online survey in late August.

“We feel that the numbers will rebound once the moisture gets back to normal,” association vice president Eldon White said of those ranchers who sold all their cattle. “It will probably be more expensive when they buy those animals back.”

The U.S. herd is at its lowest level since the 1950s and officials say the low number will mean higher beef prices over the next couple of years.

The drought and blistering triple-digit heat in Texas has left pastures and grazing lands brown and crispy, forcing ranchers to severely cull their herds. So far crop and livestock losses from the drought in Texas are estimated at a record $5.2 billion. Ag officials expect that amount to rise.

The La Nina weather pattern which led to the drought has re-emerged, meaning a drier than normal winter.

The association's Drought Impact Survey showed 16 percent of the 872 ranchers who responded had made no adjustment to their herd because of the drought. Eighty-four percent indicated they've cut their herd size from their three-year average.

The average cut to herds was 38 percent but that doesn't mean there are 38 percent fewer cattle in Texas. Many of the animals only changed hands and few have left the state, according to an association release.

About 6 percent of the association's Texas membership of 14,344 answered the survey, for which the margin for error was plus or minus 3.15 percent. There are members in other states also, including Oklahoma and New Mexico.

The results did not surprise anyone, White said.

“We knew there was pretty significant movement of cattle,” he said.

Eleven percent said they plan to increase their herd size next year and 13 percent plan to increase the number of calves they market.

Ranchers cut their herds by taking cattle to livestock market sales, placing them into feedlots early, moving cattle to unused pastures, or sending older cows to slaughter. Some moved their cattle to other states, renting pastures and paying monthly per head to the landowner.

The culling could continue if rains don't come by the end of October to recently planted winter wheat in the Panhandle.

“If we don't get those wheat pastures, we'll probably see another round'” of culling, White said. “They're going to have to make a decision whether to buy more hay.”

The head of the group said ranchers' hardiness will serve them well.

“We've lived through droughts before and no doubt we will face them again,” association president Joe Parker Jr. said. “Rain will come and when it does, you can bet ranchers will rebuild their herds and the industry will come back stronger than ever.” end_mark