Drought-related cattle deaths in South Texas

Hot, dry weather continued for most of Texas, with South Texas still the hottest and driest, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

It has been so hot and dry that ranchers are losing cattle, said Sammy Gavito, AgriLife Extension agent for Duval County , west of Corpus Christi.

"There's some cattle dying," Gavito said. "It's not dead cattle all over the place. They're not lying everywhere. But every rancher I've talked to has had at least a cow or two die out in his pasture, and that's even when he's trying to feed."

Even small percentages of death loss represent more hardship for ranchers in Duval and neighboring counties, where agriculture is largely based on beef production.

Gavito estimated that most of the ranchers he talked to had lost from 3 percent to 5 percent of their herds. He attributed the losses directly to drought conditions.

"We've had 2 inches of rain in a year's time," he said. "We're about 22 to 23 inches below normal for the year. There isn't enough for them to eat, and it's very hot. We've had almost 50 days in row of almost 100 degrees. That's a record for us down here."

Gavito said many of his ranchers who waited too long to liquidate their herds are in tough position.

"There's a fine line there," he said. "Where you've waited too long and now they're too thin, and you're not going to get anything for them."

Some of the ranchers in his county sold off herds early. Others are now to the point where they're trying to sell off even though their cattle won't bring much at the sale barn, Gavito said.

"The ranchers have fed and fed and fed, and now they're fed up," he said.

But Gativo said he believed conditions will turn around soon.

"We feel that the drought just has to break. It's just been too long," he said. "The predictions are that we're going to turn this thing around come September."

Soil moisture levels are high in the Panhandle, short to adequate in North and East Texas, but were dropping elsewhere.

More information on drought in Texas can be found at the Web site of the Drought Joint Information Center.

The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters:

CENTRAL: The region remained dry. A small percentage of corn was yet to be harvested. Some growers were baling corn, sorghum stalks and poorly developed sudan hay to feed cattle. Stock pond water levels were dropping. Producers were searching for hay and preparing land for the planting of wheat and oats.

COASTAL BEND: The drought worsened as dry conditions and record heat continued. The cotton harvest was ongoing. In some areas, cotton was zeroed-out and shredded down. Sesame was drying, and harvesting will begin soon. Producers continued to sell livestock because of lack of forage and expensive hay.

EAST: As much as 1 inch of rain fell on many counties. Angelina County reported as much as 2 inches. But high temperatures evaporated most moisture and more rain was needed. Hay production continued. Blackberry and blueberry harvesting was completed. Vegetable harvesting neared completion. Livestock were in good condition. Armyworms and feral hogs were reported in several counties.

NORTH: Soil moisture ranged from short to adequate. Warm, dry conditions encouraged harvesting of corn and soybeans, but yield prospects looked dismal. Early reports on corn yields varied from 25 to 75 bushels per acre. Grain sorghum headed, and harvesting was expected to begin in early September. Cotton was in fair to good condition with bolls opening. Peanuts were in good condition. Pastures and hay meadows were in fair shape due to timely rains earlier in August across most of the area. Moderate recent rains meant excellent grazing, and livestock were in fair to good condition. There have been several reports of armyworms, and feral hogs continue to be a major problem.

PANHANDLE: Most of the region received rain, and soil moisture levels were adequate. Parts of Carson County saw severe thunderstorms with heavy rain and severe hail damage to some crops. Corn was in the denting stage with some maturing occurring across most of the region. Cotton was fair to good, with 50 percent to 100 percent of plants having set bolls. Peanuts were in good condition with 100 percent pegging. Sorghum was 60 to 90 percent headed and some that was showing color. Soybeans were in good condition. Some producers were planting wheat early for grazing. Livestock were in good condition.

ROLLING PLAINS: Crop conditions across the region were unchanged. Rain received in some areas provided a little growth in pastures but not enough to carry livestock through the fall and winter. In some areas, irrigated cotton was close to cutout, and producers were optimistic about yields. Dryland cotton was hanging on but needed favorable weather to make an average crop. The hay crop was short and also needed rain to turn it around. Sudan was being baled for hay. Peanut producers reported a good crop so far. Farmers were plowing and fertilizing in preparation for planting winter wheat. Cattle on pastures looked good with ongoing supplemental feeding.

SOUTH: The region was hot and dry with no rain forecast. Most of the region reported short to very short soil moisture conditions. Cotton harvesting was just beginning in the northern part of the region. Producers continued irrigating peanuts. Cotton bolls were opening. There was no field crop activity in the eastern parts of the region. Cattle were dying on ranches due to the lack of water, and producers continued liquidating herds. Some producers in the western parts of the region have had to lower irrigation pipes due to the dropping water tables. No dryland pre-planting activities for fall wheat and oats were reported in the western counties because of the drought. Worsening rangeland and pastures caused thin cattle. The importing of hay from other areas of the state was very active.

SOUTH PLAINS: Hot and dry weather persisted with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s. Only a trace of rainfall was received. Soil moisture was short to adequate. Corn was in good condition, and the harvest should begin soon. Irrigated cotton looked good; the crop was loading up with bolls. Dryland cotton continued to struggle. Irrigated grain sorghum ranged from the hard dough to flowering stage. Dryland sorghum needed rain. Peanuts were in fair to good condition. Pastures and rangeland were in fair to good condition. Livestock were in good to excellent condition.

SOUTHEAST: Rangeland and pastures in many areas need heavy rain. Another cutting of hay is unlikely without it. Liberty and Jefferson counties had some scattered showers. Where there was rain in the last two weeks, producers were harvesting hay. Grazing pastures are were still under stress, with spotty rains and reduced stocking rates, but were expected to improve. Those producers who reduced stocking rates already were in good shape.

SOUTHWEST: Hot, dry weather continued. The soil profile is very dry. Forage was almost non-existent. Except for 0.1 to 0.3 inches of rain across the southern part of the district, the region has been almost completely dry since the end of July. Year-to-date rainfall is down about 65 percent from the long-term average. In addition, the region has experienced more than 50 days with temperatures of 100 degrees or higher, compared to a long-term average of about 30 days. But it appeared temperatures were starting to moderate. The grape harvest was ongoing. The cotton harvest gained momentum. Peanuts and pecans made good progress under heavy irrigation. The peanut and pecan harvest was expected to begin the end of September. Planting of cabbage, sweet corn and fall pickling cucumbers began. Corn was emerged and made good progress under heavy irrigation.

WEST CENTRAL: Extremely hot, dry weather continued. Soil moisture levels dropped. Condition of crops ranged from poor to good. Cotton was at various stages of development and showing some signs of drought stress. Producers continued cutting and baling hay. The sorghum harvest was under way with lower-than-average yields. Most rangeland and pastures were drying up, though a few areas with recent rains showed limited green-up. Stock tank water levels dropped further. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Pecans looked good.

TAGS: Management
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