With a realistic and detailed plan in action, your farm can survive even the worst droughts.]
The Southwest is suffering from a severe lack of moisture, stretching from New Mexico to central Oklahoma and from the Gulf of Mexico to Colorado and western Kansas according to the National Weather Service.
In a normal year, this is the time the majority of forage should be produced but with lack of water, forage production isn’t happening, which is resulting in cow liquidation. According to Daryl Peel, extension livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University, producers in these areas are being faced with tough decisions daily.
"Many of the producers in our region have literally no more than a few days to a very few weeks of flexibility now of what they can do," Peel says. "They are out of pasture, and even worse, in many cases they are out of water."
Ranchers in these areas are still feeding hay like they do during the winter. Cows have calves on the ground which isn’t helping matters because as calves are nursing, cows are at their highest nutritional need. This means they have to be fed high-quality forages which most producers can’t afford. According to Peel, cows kept through the drought will likely not breed back next season because they will end up in poor body condition.
"With all those factors, these guys are faced with very severe choices right away," he says.
Many producers are psychologically struggling with these tough decisions because the drought came on so fast.
"We knew it was dry," he says, "but it is always dry throughout the winter. All of the sudden we’re in April and it hasn’t rained and we realize we’ve got a serious problem."
Additionally, producers have to come to grips with the idea that they are likely going to have to make serious and deep culling decisions on the herd. However if it rains next week, the scenario could look entirely different. Peel admits that one rain won’t fix the drought, but he says it will buy time.
"So you hope against hope that you’ll get rain," he says, "even if it only means a few more weeks of flexibility."
Several parts of the country, including the Southwest, have seen drought in the past. This drought however, is "possibly the worse scenario possible," according to Peel.
"If it doesn’t rain here pretty soon," he says, "we could be looking at the potential that we will be feeding hay for the next 12 months and producers can’t afford to do that."
Steps to Take
According to Peel, at this point, no good options exist. It’s a matter of how deep you will have to cut. He recommends sitting down and developing a plan that you can share with your banker.
Here are some potential ideas:
- Sell all your older cows.
- Wean calves early.
- Sell calves if markets allow, otherwise, put them in a feeding program
- Once you’ve cut down to a core group of cows, determine how long you can afford to feed hay.
- Include specific dates in your plan. Ex. If by this date nothing improves, I will do this.
- If you see liquidation coming, do it now while prices are high and cows are in decent condition.
Peel says producers need to realize that it’s not a question of "Can I save my herd?" but rather the question "Can I save enough core genetics that I can rebuild a heard when the time comes?"