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Texas Drought Takes Toll on Cattle—and Ranchers

June 7, 2013
By: Tyne Morgan, Ag Day TV National Reporter
JARanch cattle texas
Despite the crippling drought, JA Ranch has managed to keep its cows.  

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Read part one of this special "AgDay" report: Surviving the Texas Drought

The nation’s second-largest canyon, once carved by running water, is now all but void of that life-sustaining resource. For the ranchers here, recovery seems beyond the scenic horizon.

"When we start getting a healing of the grass, we're going to have to rebuild some root systems," says Jay O’Brien, managing partner at JA Ranch.

This land is home to the oldest privately owned ranch in the Texas Panhandle, once covering more than a million acres. JA Ranch’s history is what they hope will help secure their future, despite the hard-hitting drought.

"This ranch has been in the same family since 1876," he says. "Certainly, if we do anything to keep it from staying in the same family for another 100 years, then we're doing a poor job."

Many local ranchers have been forced to cull their herd, just waiting for the drought to pass. The latest USDA Crop Progress report shows 40% of the state’s pasture and range in poor to very poor condition. In the Panhandle, the conditions are even worse than the state-wide numbers show.

Despite the crippling drought, JA Ranch has managed to keep its cows.

"I think a lot of people look at the short term, so they're not protected for the long term," O’Brien says.

O’Brie says rebuilding the native grasses, and not overgrazing, is key in helping this ranch continue to survive.

"We will not seed; this is native grass, and it's not economical to seed," he says. "We will just have to baby this ranch by running fewer numbers for some time to let the grass heal itself."

O’Brien says the heat is also an issue, attracting new pests that are demolishing this range.

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