The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 6, 2013

Have you herd ... there’s a drought

Dry weather tough on area cattle industry

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The ongoing drought has had an affect on cattle producers, but good herd management and strong prices have averted crisis.

Recent snows and rains have sparked some hope the drought is lifting, said Rick Nelson, Garfield County agriculture extension agent.

“We have been in the most intense area of the drought,” Nelson said. “But it’s better than it was a year ago. A year ago there was 65 percent of the continental United States in moderate drought. Now it’s 51 percent.”

The entire state of Oklahoma is rated as in “moderate” to “exceptional” drought. Garfield county is rated as “extreme,” Nelson said.

A soil probe now can be inserted three feet into the ground to check moisture levels, he said.

Jerry Nine, owner of Woodward Livestock Auction, said the drought has been tough on cattle producers.

“It’s been hard to make any money because they have had to buy so much feed,” Nine said.

Cattle producers sold down stock early in the drought to reduce their losses, Nine said.

“Other states came in and bought our cattle pretty high in pairs,” Nine said. “Normally in a drought state when you have to sell your cattle, you have to sell them pretty cheap.”

Nine estimates herd size has been reduced about 40 percent overall since the drought began.

Nelson pointed to Garfield County numbers recorded the previous year.

“In a year’s time, we’ve got 17,700 beef cows, and that’s down 13.66 percent from last year,” Nelson said.

Nelson said cattle sales have remained strong, which helps the producers. The lower numbers will drive high prices for beef.

“Sales are still good — there’s still beef demand,” he said. “With the lower inventory, it’s going to hang in there until about 2014.”

“Now it’s starting to rain, and that’s good,” Nine said.

But Nelson said continued good management will be important.

“Even if we come back to a normal situation, we’ve been through two to three years of drought, and it’s going to take the same amount of time to recover,” Nelson said. “You’re going to have to give the pastures time to recuperate.”

For best long-term recovery, cattlemen will have to take care not to overgraze the pastures, Nelson said.