Ranchers face cattle feed shortage

The New Mexico cattle industry remains in a holding pattern, crippled by an extended dry period that has dried up feed sources.

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Conditions with cattle feed are no closer to improving, according to local cattle ranchers. Clovis Livestock Auction representative Rustin Rowley said without significant rain, cattle liquidation will only increase because of the lack of feed.

Without some significant moisture this spring, herds will have to be further culled, experts said.

Manny Encinias, a cattle specialist with New Mexico State University who also serves as the director of operations for the New Mexico Beef Cattle Performance Association, said the industry has experienced a reduction in herd inventories of more than 20 percent since 2010.

"It's the hot button discussion issue right now but until we get some more rain conditions, I don't think anyone is thinking about anything but trying to survive," Roosevelt County Agricultural Agent Patrick Kircher. said. "Most of the guys I've talked to are in the same position they were in last year. There's still no feed. These early spring winds and no moisture is real impacting most of agriculture."

Clovis Livestock sales representative Rustin Rowley and Curry County cattle rancher Pat Woods agreed that no rain means no feed.

Rowley said the New Mexico legislation, which changed how suppliers bring cattle feed into the state, has helped but not a lot.

"It will help but rain is the only thing that's really going to make a difference with people keeping their cattle," Rowley said. "We gotta have rain 'cause they can't keep feeding them."

Rowley said cattle liquidation has not increased increase over the last few months but has continued at a steady pace.

"Things haven't changed since last year. The feed supply, the grass, is low," Woods said. "If anyone has any grass, it's old grass. It's in pretty short supply. A lot of ranchers are still trying to hold onto what they have left."

Woods said he is feeling positive about rain coming in the next three months.

"We can go from one extreme or another in no time. It will turn around. It always does," Woods said. "We have to be optimistic. I don't believe there's no way we'll get rain. A lot of times, we don't get much rain this time of year."

Woods said he has seen rain make a difference just overnight.

He said local grass has about 2 percent protein now compared to the 10 percent protein of average grass, making it useless as cattle feed.

"If we could get two or three inches of rain, then a couple of weeks later get some more, it would really change our country," Woods said. "It would make all the difference in the world."

Woods said six to seven inches of rain in a six-week period is what would be ideal for land to begin healing.

The extended forecast is not conducive to those type moisture numbers.

Jennifer Palucki, a meteorologist with the New Mexico National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said although temperatures are predicted to be high in April through June, precipitation could be either above or below average for the season.

"The next three months, it looks like what they've (Climate Prediction Centers) predicted is almost 40 percent chance of above normal temperatures," Palucki said.

"I don't know how we can cull anymore (cattle) without selling out," Woods said of the possibility of the drought continuing. "A lot of guys stock their pastures real conservatively so they can make it a couple of years but if we don't get more rain, I don't think we can keep making it."

Nationally, the industry is experiencing record prices for all classes of live cattle due to the lowest national cow inventory since the early 1950s. A strong domestic and global demand for U.S. beef is also affecting prices.

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