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.
Of total respondents, 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.
The results tell a tale of two extremes. The majority of respondents said they typically retain between 6% and 20% of their heifers, with 24% indicating they keep 26% or more.
21% of respondents in the North indicated they kept more heifers than normal, and 66.7% said they toed the line on replacements. Only 12.3% indicated they cut back on heifer retention.
Of those retaining fewer heifers, 94.7% of southern respondents cited the shortage of feed as the main reason. Only 15.8% did so because of historically high prices for calves, and 10.5% had other motivations.
Typically, ranchers liquidate 1-10% of their cows. 2011 was not a typical year.
When ranchers in the drought states were asked if they liquidated cows due to drought, 66.9% answered yes, while 33.1% said no.
When asked how many they sold, ranchers indicated they culled deeply. The biggest percentage (27.2%) came in the 11-20% range. And, nearly 20% said they culled 50% or more of their cows this year due to drought.
Nearly 34% of respondents reported expanding their cowherd, while 66.2% said they didn’t. Of those expanding, 32% grew their herd by 6-10%; while another 28% expanded by 5% or less.
Interestingly, only 4% indicated their herd expansion included cows from the drought-stricken areas of the country and only 1.4% indicated they are managing cows for others forced by drought to relocate cattle.
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.
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.
The most popular of those value-added attributes was preconditioning (79.3%), followed by source verified (63.3%) and age verified at 61.2%. 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.
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.
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