Texas has experienced a 22% decline over the past 3 years, notes Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service livestock specialist Dr. David Anderson, College Station.
Continued drought in 2012 took another year's toll on the nation's cowherd, according to the latest USDA report, Anderson points out.
USDA reported that the U.S. had the smallest cattle herd since 1952. The 89.3 million cattle in the U.S. on Jan. 1 were 1.4 million fewer than last year."
The drought that just won't turn loose its grip caused the Texas cattle herd to shrink again, Anderson says, as the state now has the fewest cattle since the 1950s.
"Just over 4 million beef cows were reported in Texas on Jan. 1," he said. "Texas has lost over 1 million beef cows in the last year years, representing a 22% decline in cow numbers. Ranchers across the U.S. and Texas reported that they held more young females, or heifers, to begin to replace the cows lost. Nationwide, 2 percent more heifers were kept compared to the year before."
Anderson does not expect the beef supply situation to change in 2013, with the overall smallest U.S. cattle herd in 60 years.
"Where are we headed in 2013? I think again we will contend with tighter supplies of cattle, high feed costs, but hopefully, drought recovery to go with it," Anderson says.
Anderson says to expect tight supplies of calves and for prices to remain high for 2013.
"I think that will be due to tighter supplies of cattle and the potential is there for a possible record high corn crop if we get the rain in the Midwest," Anderson says.
But the U.S. hay production and supplies are at a record low. USDA reports the two-plus years of drought have taken an enormous toll on the nation's hay production. USDA reported U.S. hay production in 2012 was 120 million tons, down nearly 18% from the 2006 through 2010 average.
Taylor County, Texas rancher Steve Stockton is in his third year of dealing with merciless drought and record heat south of Abilene.
Stockton is trying to survive, rotating his cattle herd from place to place, feeding some minerals, and good hay, and he's just glad that going into this spring he still had stock tanks with some water for livestock. Many ranchers do not.
Stockton is just glad he didn't sell all his hay for cash flow during the drought period.
You can see Stockton's story in "Drought Survivor" in the March 2013 issue of The Farmer-Stockman.