After several years of drought, the number of cattle on Kansas feedlots has been increasing, according to federal data.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service says the number of cattle on Kansas feedlots has risen 2 percent in the past year to about 1.94 million, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Overall cattle inventories across the state also have grown, according to the USDA statistics.
Higher numbers of cattle on feedlots doesn't necessarily mean the number of Kansas-owned herds are up. Many ranchers transport cattle to Kansas from other states to fatten them before sending them to feedlots and meatpacking plants.
The situation was different not too long ago, according to Leroy Russell, Shawnee County agriculture agent for Kansas State University Research and Extension. Drought conditions had been drying up Kansas' ponds and pushing up prices for livestock feed, which prompted farmers to sell off cattle or send them to packing plants.
"They were shipping them out because we didn't have water sources," he said.
As late as last August, the USDA said Kansas' feedlot tallies were at their lowest levels since the mid-1990s.
But most of the NASS' monthly reports since October have shown year-on-year increases in cattle on Kansas feedlots. And as of Jan. 1, total cattle numbers in Kansas hit 6 million, up 200,000 from a year earlier after three consecutive years of decreases. Total inventories includes all cattle and calves, not just those on feedlots.
Don Hamilton, who raises cattle in Shawnee County, said drought had hit his production hard, but he has been recovering and now has about 85 cows.
"Things are good right now because prices are still reasonably high, and we've had moisture," he said.