What’s more, proving it’s a game-changer in many respects, the 2011 drought forced changes to many ranchers’ marketing plans. The majority of respondents from the drought-stricken South (68.2%) indicated they marketed their calves earlier than usual in 2011, while 31.8% maintained their customary marketing schedule. In the North, 91.3% held to their customary marketing schedule, while only 8.8% sold early.

When asked why, 97.5% of drought-stricken producers who sold calves early cited a lack of feed as the main reason. “Severe drought, ran out of water and grass,” said one respondent (Figure 10).

Interestingly, 28.6% of northern ranchers also indicated lack of available feed as a reason they sold calves early, while 28.6% took advantage of locking in a favorable price, and 42.9% had other reasons. “I was afraid the market would break if I sold later,” one respondent reported.

Despite the drought, however, ranchers are still striving to produce calves that earn market premiums. Nearly half (47.1%) of all respondents said they marketed calves with value-added attributes in 2011 (Figure 11). The most popular of those attributes was preconditioning (79.3%), followed by source verified (63.3%) and age verified at 61.2% (Figure 12). As a general rule, ranchers in the North are slightly more inclined to seek market premiums through value-added attributes than ranchers in the South.

Hanging tough

Zero. Zilch. Nada. That’s precisely how many respondents who liquidated cows in 2011 due to drought said they plan to pocket the cash and exit the business. Testament to the resilience and fortitude of cattlemen, a full 52.2% say they will restock with cows when conditions improve. However, 36.5% indicated they aren’t sure just yet what the future holds. Another 7% said they intend to restock but change production models, such as buying stockers rather than cows. Another 5.2% play to reinvest the cash in another non-livestock ag enterprise (Figure 13).

Indeed, the drought of 2011 has been a game-changer. As we break the ice on a new year, pasture and range conditions in the drought-stricken states of Texas and Oklahoma, the epicenter of last year’s dry disaster, are improving slowly. And so, with a hopeful eye cast skyward and prayerful words in their hearts, cattlemen in the drought-stricken states prepare for whatever 2012 may bring.