"Worst drought in history.”

“Acquired more grass.”

Those cryptic answers – the first to a question on why respondents retained fewer heifers than normal, and the second to a question on why respondents retained more heifers than normal – are perhaps the best characterizations of a year in which cattlemen saw both the worst and the best that Mother Nature can throw at them.

Those questions and more in regard to the drought that’s been described as “a game changer” were part of BEEF magazine’s latest quarterly email survey of readers. In early December, BEEF emailed readers in selected states about their actions in fall 2011 regarding management of their calves, heifers and cows.

Surveyed were readers identifying themselves as cow-calf producers operating in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas in the South; and Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska in the North. The survey’s intent was to obtain a representative sample of responses from producers in the drought-devastated South to contrast with responses from producers in the ample-moisture area of the North.

A total of 6,600 surveys were sent, which produced a total of 264 useable completed surveys, for an effective response rate of 3.9%.

Of total respondents (Figure 1), 70.1% reported experiencing drought conditions in 2011, while 29.9% escaped the scourge of short moisture. Of southern respondents, 98.9% dealt with dry weather in 2011, while a lucky 1.1% escaped the effects of drought. But that dry weather extended north, with 6.2% of respondents in the “wet” states indicating they dealt with drought in 2011.