The drought of 2011 has turned many Southern Plains ranches into deserts, leaving some producers no choice but to cull their herds and flood auction sales and packing plants with a steady stream of open and bred cows and heifers. But Frontera Feedyard, Muleshoe, TX, is helping ease the pain.

It’s among a handful of feedyards providing a few pens for cow maintenance programs. And while it’s a service that some ranchers have taken advantage of, it’s only a “very small portion” of the several million cattle on feed in the Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico region, says Don Close, Texas Cattle Feeders Association director of marketing.

Frontera, a 35,000-head capacity custom feedyard, had about 1,000 bred first-calf heifers in its pens in the fall. There were also some 400 bred and open cows and bulls at the facility, which normally takes 500-800-lb. steers and heifers and finishes them out to 1,200-1,400 lbs. via a high-energy ration.

“These ranch cattle, however, are on a special maintenance ration that’s helping them regain their strength and body condition score,” says Jeff Matsler, Frontera manager.

“With this drought, many ranches just didn’t have the grass or stock water. But we’re able to take cows and heifers, bred or not, and have them on this program for about 75 days. Cows will then return to the ranch, be sold to other ranches by video sale, or be sent to a packer.”

Located just an alley or two away from pens of Angus and crossbred steers that will likely grade close to 70% Choice, the “warehouse” pens contain all breeds and types of cattle. Some, having been through weeks of 100°F-plus days and no rainfall, may think a feedyard is nirvana when they walk off the truck. Condition ratings probably average a body condition score 3 at best.

“Some cows were so thin that it took a lot to get to an adequate flesh condition,” Matsler says.