Drought conditions hit cattle country
By Jennifer Carrico
Drought conditions continue to plague nearly 70 percent of cattle country across the United States.
J.D. Alexander, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and cattle rancher from Pilger, Neb., said the farmers in his area are cutting silage earlier than ever before.
"There's no grain on many of the corn ears all across Nebraska and the Midwest. Farmers don't know what to do with it, so many are cutting it for silage for cattle," he said. "With record high grain prices and this drought, it is putting a lot of pressure on our operation."
Cattlemen and feedlot operators are concerned about finding enough resources to feed their animals, since they are not only dealing with these high prices, but also dealing with drought issues.
"We have our feedlot at 60 percent capacity and it's hard to find corn and the money to survive this year. Some of my neighbors may not be able to fill all of their lots this year because of it," he added.
Not just feedlot operators are suffering, but also cow-calf producers. Bim Nelson with Bassett Livestock Auction, Bassett, Neb., said many producers in his area of north central Nebraska are running out of pasture grass and don't have enough hay to get through the winter. This is leading to many ranchers selling cows that they can't winter.
"We have had more cull cows go through than normal and some ranches are selling groups of fall bred cows," said Nelson. "It takes a lot more inputs to winter a cow that is raising a calf and the ranchers around here want to keep their spring herds in tact."
The Aug. 1 sale at Bassett featured a fall herd dispersal of 460 cows from one ranch ranging from first-calf heifers to older cows. They sold these in groups with an average right at $1,300 per cow.
Nelson said these fall cows are always the first to go during a drought. Many in this run were sold to a producer in South Dakota who had to cut the majority of his corn for silage because of the drought, but he thought he would have enough extra feed from the silage to feed a few more cows through the winter.
Other cows are going to Minnesota where they have had proper rainfall for the year, some interest was coming out of Canada and other northern states, as well as a few going back to Oklahoma and Texas who are trying to rebuild their herd from the drought they suffered from in 2011.
With an abundant amount of cows going to the sale barn across Nebraska, prices slipped a bit from earlier summer prices. Slaughter cows have also taken a bit of a hit, as they were selling in the mid-$80s in early sprint and are now down to the mid-$60s.
Nelson said feeder cattle prices have continued to stay about close to normal, but he's concerned as to what will happen with producers who have half the normal hay crop and no grass available.
"Right now it's hard to know what to advise people to do. Mother Nature is in control of so much and so much is unknown," he said. "Some of our producers in north central Nebraska have had to deal with fires because of the drought as well. Because they were spending so much time fighting the fires, they probably are still trying to figure out their plan for the rest of the year. It will have a definite impact on our area."
At one point nearly 50,000 acres was on fire in the area north and west of Bassett. An area that is abundant in grass for cow-calf and stocker producers.
"This is the most serious drought I have seen in Nebraska and the Midwest since I have been in the cattle industry in many decades," concluded Alexander. "These conditions concern us because with higher input prices and lower numbers we need to figure out how to keep beef economical enough for consumers."
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.