About 70% of Texas pasture is in poor condition, according to USDA, but cattle producers are hanging in through the dry conditions with optimism that moisture will return.
“Cattle producers have been hit hard due to the ongoing drought, but things are hopefully looking up for the future,” said Steve Estes, the AgriLife Extension agriculture and natural resources agent for Taylor County.
On Monday, Aug.21, the USDA reported the Texas pasture condition as 39% very poor, 31% poor, 18% fair, 11% good, and 1% excellent.
A wet spring meant that most cattle producers were able to cut hay to replenish their feed supplies. Early summer rains also eased some drought stress on the rangelands, according to Texas A&M Extension.
Despite a strong start to summer, it’s been more than 30 days since most of Texas has seen measurable precipitation, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Texas Crop Progress and Condition report noted Northeast Texas and southeast Texas received up to 1 inch of rain in that time. The recent report also notes the Edwards Plateau is the driest.
Nonstop hot days and nights have hindered pastures and rangeland forages. Farmers have been supplementing pastures with hay supplies, according to Extension. The report also notes that producers are beginning to liquidate herds in the Southern Low Plains region.
Cow herd Expansion to Remain Slow
The weekly USDA Texas Cattle Auction reported that out of 3,539 head of cattle sold the week ending Aug.11, 84 head were replacement cattle. 57% were cows, and 33% were cow-calf pairs of the 84 head of replacement cattle.
The report found that the weekly numbers are down slightly compared with this time last year. In 2022, close to 7,000 head of cattle were sold, and 4% were replacement cattle.
This year, cattle herd expansion is moving much slower than after the drought from 2011 to 2013, which severely lowered cattle inventories, says Derrell S. Peel, an Oklahoma State University Extension livestock specialist. High cattle prices are remaining strong, which is helping producers make deeper culls in herds. Yet, herd rebuilding in cattle country with continuing drought conditions will continue to delay herd expansion, he adds.
A recent weather outlook from the Climate Prediction Center shows El Niño conditions could begin in December, which makes Texas cattlemen hopeful, as it could bring much-needed moisture to parts of the Lone Star state.
Texas Drought Details
The most recent Crop Progress report rated the Texas topsoil moisture was 63% very short, 30% short, 7% adequate. No soil was found in surplus moisture. Subsoil moisture was rated 54% very short, 34% short, 12% adequate. No surplus was reported.
In the latest weekly Texas Water Board water report, drought conditions have spread, and the recent increase was the most significant weekly increase the state has seen in three years. Last month, only 40% of the state was abnormally dry.