By Robert Burns,Texas AgriLife
Livestock producers are certainly more optimistic this fall than last year, but generally they remain extremely cautious when it comes to rebuilding herds and holding onto forage stocks, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service beef expert.
"There is more optimism, but at the same time they’re very cautious right now because they’re still trying to allow pastures to recover and make sure they have some forage reserves for the next drought," said Dr. Jason Cleere, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, College Station.
The 2012 drought was devastating for many of the state’s beef producers. Lack of grazing and depleted hay stocks forced them to cull or disperse herds altogether, Cleere said.
Nationwide, beef cattle inventories dropped 3 percent last year, he said. For those not familiar with the beef cattle business, 3 percent may not seem like much.
"But we’d already had a shrunken cowherd because of a number of years of drought and dispersals. As a result, we now have the smallest cowherd that the U.S. has had in the past 60 years," he said.
We hear the 3 percent nationally, but here in Texas it was a whole lot worse," he said. "In some of the counties, it was pretty devastating."
The drought is far from over, but many areas have had considerable relief. According to the Oct. 9 U.S. Drought Monitor, only about 16 percent of the state was still suffering from extreme drought, compared to 97 percent a year ago.
As a result, hay supplies have been rebuilt and, though not fully recovered, many pastures and rangeland have improved considerably, Cleere said. Now, with the improved forage situation and high market prices because of decreased herd sizes, some livestock producers would like to utilize that improved grazing, and buy back some of the cattle that were sold north last year.
"Yesterday, I talked to a number of ranchers, and those ranchers are looking to buy some of those cattle and bring them back to Texas," he said.
But replacement prices are high, and those same ranchers remain cautious, he said.
"They can’t afford to go through what they went through last year."
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/ .