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Dry as dust
Ranchers to start selling off cattle if drought goes on. Lack of rain makes even cacti too dry for feed.
By J.R. Gonzales Caller-Times
BEEVILLE - Next month will be crucial for some area ranchers watching their land - and their cattle - dry up. "The last rain I had was in February," said J.B. Doreck, a Bee County rancher. If no significant rain falls in September, many ranchers will be forced to sell their calves early to help cover the high costs of feeding their herds. And if the drought holds past that, some might be forced to sell their breeding stock. It's a ripple effect that might soon be felt in kitchens around the nation. "The country doesn't know it, but they're fixing to go hungry," Doreck said. September rains are important because that is about Michelle Christenson/Caller-Times McMullen County Judge and rancher Linda Lee Henry indicates how shriveled the prickly pear cacti have become. the last time of the year ranchers can expect some plant growth to use in feeding the livestock. Since the drought, Doreck has been feeding his cattle about five $50 bales of hay a day along with cottonseed cake. The cost of feed is getting to be too much. Some rain would ease the problem by filling stock tanks and allowing cattle to feed on such things as prickly pear cactus. Even cactus parched "Cactus pulls moisture into its leaves and fills out and provides better feed for the cattle," said Johnny Nichols, aMcMullen County rancher. Compared to Bee and Live Oak counties, McMullen County has plenty of prickly pear. Ranchers could burn the sharp spines off the cacti and use leaves as cattle feed, if there were enough moisture.
"Usually you cut a leaf and it's all moisture and now you cut one and it's just shriveled," said Linda Lee Henry, McMullen County Judge and a rancher.
Nichols provides rainfall data to the National Weather Service. For 2001, his weather gauge has recorded about 6.46 inches of rain, meaning McMullen County is about 10 inches behind for this time of year. At a livestock auction outside Beeville Friday, the talk of rain was enough to give a glimmer of hope to one rancher. "They're telling us we have a good chance of rain Sunday," said Reagan Tindol, a Live Oak County rancher.
"When they tell you that, you want to believe that, hoping that's going to happen." The National Weather Service reported widely scattered rain over inland areas of the Coastal Bend Sunday. Steady rain needed But Tindol has enough experience to know that even a downpour all day Sunday would have only run off into nearby streams. "One rain won't do," he said. What's needed is a week's worth of steady rain, about an inch or two a day. Selling calves is the first step in a process that could leave ranchers with little. "If you don't have anything to feed them right now, the people are having to just go out of business," Henry said.
If no significant rain falls, Skidmore-area rancher David Ross said, the calves he intended to keep until they got bigger would be sold first, then the older cows would be sold a few weeks later. Nichols hopes to fare a little better because he uses a different method of feeding his cattle.
"Once you start feeding cattle heavy, burning pear or feeding hay to them, the cows rely on it and they'll stand around and wait for you to come everyday to feed them," he said. "If you feed them light in a drought, they keep foraging for themselves and can go longer." David Pellerin/Caller-Times Auctioneer Clyde Holdcroft sells off some cattle at the Beeville Livestock Commission. Area ranchers may be forced to auction off cattle to offset high feeding costs if the area receives no significant rain in September.
Tindol said he's worried that selling off some of his cattle before a big rainstorm will make it difficult to buy cattle back because of high prices.
Ross said he could ride the drought out - but only for a little while longer. "I'll probably go without doing anything for another two weeks, then I'm going to start cutting back and selling off," he said.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 27, 2001