After Drought, Some Texas Ranchers Wary of Rebuilding

Photo courtesy of AgriLife Extension Service/Robert Burns / Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Despite recent rains, Texas ranchers replenish herds with caution.

It’s been a tough couple of years for Texas ranchers, but as the rain falls, financial clouds are begining to clear.

Increased rainfall has improved conditions for livestock production after ranches were devastated in the 2011 drought. But despite the improvement, ranchers remain hesitant to start replenishing their herds, according to the latest crop and weather report from Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service.

Dr. Jason Cleere, an A&M AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist says in the report that national droughts hit the cattle industry hard, in Texas and the country as a whole. National cowherd numbers have dropped to the smallest in 60 years. “We hear the 3 percent nationally, but here in Texas it was a whole lot worse,” he says in the report. “In some of the counties, it was pretty devastating.”

Now Texas ranchers have to decide whether or not to buy back their herds. With increased rainfall throughout the year, much of the poor ranching conditions have passed. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor Map, just sixteen percent of the state is now under extreme drought instead of 97 percent in 2011.

Cleere says though ranchers are optimistic, they will grow their populations with caution. Memories of sparse grazing areas and dwindling hay stocks are fresh. Many ranchers were even forced to sell cattle to the north, resulting in 3.23 billion dollars in cattle losses according to a 2011 report by AgriLife Extension.

Buying back cattle is expensive and not all hay supplies are completely replenished. Cleere says many ranchers will wait until they have ample forage reserves in preparation for future droughts. So it could still be some time before we see a true rebound of ranching in Texas.

Elizabeth Trovall is an intern with StateImpact Texas. 

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