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  • Last modified 2261 days ago (July 12, 2012)

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Ranchers brace for drought's impact

Staff writer

Local cattle producers haven’t experienced the drought conditions that have caused ranchers in neighboring states to flood livestock markets with record early summer sales, but if conditions continue unabated they may have to resort to the same tactic.

“We’ve not had an extra big run,” Herington Livestock Manager Bill Mathias said. “If it doesn’t rain pretty quick, you’ll see some. I’m going to look at 180 steers that are coming early because he’s (a rancher) out of grass.”

Mathias said the lack of rain has limited the effectiveness of spring burns that were intended to provide better grass for grazing.

“The grass they burned is worse than what they didn’t burn. North and east of Council Grove is worse than here,” Mathias said.

Cow Camp, Inc. President Tracy Brunner confirmed poor grass quality is having an effect on the Ramona-based cattle producer.

“Cattle are coming off of grass earlier and needing to come on feed a little earlier than the schedule would have been normally,” Brunner said. “The grass is drying up, it looks like August.”

Mathias said cattle futures have taken a hit because of the drought, as August feeder futures dropped from $1.64 to $1.45.

“That’s about $120 less on an 800-pound steer,” Mathias said.

While the increased volume of cattle coming to market may be partly to blame, Brunner said rising corn prices due to drought-driven shortages are a major factor.

“It’s put a large share of the nation’s corn crop in jeopardy. When prices for corn go higher, the prices for feeder livestock goes lower,” Brunner said. “The market price has been lowered because the cost of corn has skyrocketed — it’s gone up $2 to $3 per bushel from two weeks ago.”

The drought plus high temperatures place the cattle at higher risk of heat stress, a condition for with the primary remedy, water, is growing scarce and requires management in both fields and feedlots.

“Their body temperature elevates, and it takes six to twelve hours to come down. Ready access to water is the most critical and will do the most to alleviate that,” Brunner said.

Cattle producers are affected by drought in the short term, but Brunner said current conditions have implications well beyond this summer.

“Ultimately we’ll have lower prices for cattle and beef for the next few months. But long term, a year or two out, it will force prices higher because of the liquidation that takes place now,” Brunner said.

Last modified July 12, 2012

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