With little to no grazing or hay, should livestock producers continue to try to buy feed, move cattle to another state or just sell out?
"It would be much less expensive to just get out and come back later," said Dr. Larry Redmon, Texas AgriLife Extension Service state forage specialist. "And that’s the message that we’re trying to convey."
Many livestock producers have already tried to cut feeding costs by extensively culling their herds, but have held onto enough cows to rebuild their herds if the drought passes, he said.
In some dry years, that might be a good strategy, but not this one, Redmon said.
"It's unprecedented. (We've had) the 12 driest months in Texas history, and there's just not many ways to combat that."
With grazing and hay supplies next to non-existent in many areas of the state, it's getting very expensive to buy feed. On average, it's costing producers "somewhere around a $100 a month to have these animals (cows) stay in the pasture and feed them," he said.
Another choice is to move cattle elsewhere, most likely another state during this drought, and lease land where there is grazing, Redmon said.
"It could be western Mississippi; it could be eastern Louisiana; or it could be maybe Missouri," he said. “I haven’t talked to anybody this year, but in the past couple of years people have called me from other states and they’ve quoted prices of $20 to $22 per (cow/calf) pair per month. Even assuming that’s $25 or $30 that’s still a far, far cry from $100 a month."
Of course, one has to add the cost of hauling a trailer load of cattle to the leased grazing, but even with that added cost it still cheaper than trying to buy hay and feed at today's prices, he said.
"It's probably going to be $3 to $3.50 a loaded mile—something like that," he said. "If you just put all that together … the savings could still be tremendous if a person could find a place to put those animals."
But completely selling out makes more sense yet, Redmon said, given there's no guarantee this drought will end anytime soon.
"Some people would counter and say it'll cost more to come back into the business later because conditions will have improved, and more people will be getting back in," he said. "That’s true. But again, looking at the difference in what it would cost to buy cows and come back in at some later date versus what they would spend trying to go through this drought, mathematically, it's just a no-brainer."
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.