Following multiple years of drought and serious culling of Texas cattle herds, it should come as no surprise that the number of cattle auction markets has declined as the result of consolidation and closures.
According to recent research from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, not only are the number of cattle auction markets down, chances are good they may not increase to pre-drought numbers in the foreseeable future.
But Texas AgriLife Extension Service Livestock Specialist Dr. Joe Paschal, who has been serving 37 counties in South Texas for over 30 years from the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in Corpus Christi, is not worried about the decline and says a viable system of live cattle auction markets will always be available across the state.
"Cattle auction markets have always been subject to and greatly influenced by the number of cattle in the state, and certainly we have (fewer) cattle now than we did before the drought. But these auction markets are about a lot more than just marketing," Paschal said during an interview with Southwest Farm Press this week.
According to the Extension study, in 1969, the year in which data about the number of markets was first collected, there were 167 cattle auction markets in the state. Lead author of the study, Dr. David Anderson, AgriLife Extension Service livestock marketing economist, said currently fewer than 100 auction markets exist across the state.
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The study also notes that the decline in the number of cattle in Texas has been significant as a result of the recent drought years. During the mid-1970s Texas beef cow numbers totaled about seven million head. Though the number of cows has risen slightly from the lows following massive culling operations during the drought years, the current beef cow number hovers around 4.2 million.
"There is always going to be up and down numbers for a lot of reasons, including beef demand and market prices," Paschal said. "But we're going to see an increase as producers add back more cows in the months and years ahead."
Rebuilding has begun
He said many producers have already started rebuilding herds—some faster than others— by adding more heifers. Many remain cautious in the current market environment and as they monitor demand, beef prices and weather conditions. But Paschal says the heavy rains that started falling last year and extended well through spring this year is an encouraging sign, and the state is currently experiencing an upswing in both confidence among producers and cow-calf numbers.
Paschal says he doesn't feel that the number of lost cattle auction market is anything to be over concerned about.
"In the 30 years I have been in South Texas, I think we have lost only one cattle auction market in the region, that one in Hebronville. The auction market in Alice was sold three times in that same period, but the new owner transition each time didn't cause any down time," he added.
Paschal agrees with the recent study that other types of cattle marketing have contributed to fewer markets than in years past. Internet auctions have claimed some of the recent spotlight and he expects to see more technology marketing in the years ahead.
Auctions here to stay
"But are we at risk of losing live cattle auctions in Texas? That's just not going to happen. For one, the Texas Animal Health Commission depends of these auctions as a first line of animal testing for things like brucellosis in cattle, and with new trich (trichomoniasis) rules, auction houses are going to remain a key component in the Texas cattle system."
Other advantages of cattle auction markets include benefits for producers, especially small producers, who find advice and other forms of help through them. This often includes auction facilities serving as a place where cattle can be branded and/or vaccinated.
"They also serve as place where a producer can drop his cattle while awaiting transport or when they need temporary care for some other reason. Auction houses will feed and water the animals and keep an eye on their health for a producer during such times," he added.
Paschal says cattle auctions serve as an educational hub for schools with ag programs and for young producers feeling their way into the cattle business.
"You can expect to see some consolidation of auction markets and even the loss of a few as a result of the economy or lower cattle numbers, but you can't take the beef out of Texas. There will always be a need for live cattle auction markets as long as the cattle industry remains viable within the state, and I don't see that changing," he said.