Nebraska has surpassed Texas in the number of cattle in the state being fattened for slaughter, according to the latest federal statistics.
Drought-ravaged Texas lost its fictional crown after its total dropped 7 percent over the past year, to 2.44 million head in feedlots with a capacity of at least 1,000 animals. That compares unfavorably with Nebraska's loss of less than a half a percent, to 2.46 million head, the Lincoln Journal Star said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that, as of Feb. 1, there were 10.76 million head of cattle being fattened for slaughter nationally, compared with 11.07 million a year ago.
Nebraska remains far behind Texas in the total number of cattle with 6.5 million head, compared with 10.9 million in Texas.
Kate Brooks, a professor of livestock production and agricultural marketing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said record high cattle prices have helped push calves through the market.
"A lot of that had to do with calves coming off of wheat pastures early due to some of the dry conditions we've been seeing in the Plains states," Brooks said.
Many Nebraska feedlots can boast abundant supplies of corn and water, Brooks said, and the growth of ethanol in Nebraska has created a supply of distillers grain — a byproduct of the fermentation process.
Greg Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, said the figures could fluctuate over the next year but that the number of feed cattle in Nebraska has generally increased over time. Ibach said the state is a "natural fit" for feed cattle because it's the nation's second-largest ethanol producer, the third-largest corn producer and it offers nearly 23 million acres of range and pastureland.
Texas lost 15 percent of its cattle — or about 2 million animals — between January 2011 and January 2013, as ranchers sold them to out-of-state buyers or sent them to slaughter due to an unrelenting drought. At its worst, 88 percent of the state was in the most severe stage of drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor map.
Now, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about 58 percent of Texas remains in one stage of drought or another. Far less land is in the worst dryness categories than in previous years, while 18 percent of the state is considered abnormally dry. There is little severe or worse drought in East Texas and parts of Southeast Texas, where many of the state's cattle are produced.
With better conditions, experts have said, more and more Texas producers are looking at handling more cattle.
Source: Associated Press