Expert: Drought Took Big Bite of Cattle Industry

10/13/2012 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Due to the Texas drought, the dwindling corn inventory will continue to dampen cattle prices, said Ron Gill. But for how long and how far-reaching is unknown.

Gill, a livestock specialist for Texas Agrilife Extension and 20-year industry expert in beef cattle nutrition, management and handling, was at the Keystone International Livestock Exposition last weekend at the Pennsylvania Farm Show complex in Harrisburg.

While there, he discussed the effects of the severe drought that devastated cattle ranchers and crop farmers across the Lone Star State.

As the drought drained farmers of resources, a lot of heat-tolerant cows were slaughtered and will be hard to replace. Cattle from the northern United States aren’t “environmentally adapted” to handle Texas heat, Gill said.

“It’s gonna be tough coming back in with the right kind of cattle,” he said.

Cattle inventory in Texas is down about 25 to 30 percent, he said. That means eventually consumers will likely back away from buying beef because of high prices. Gill predicts the inflated meat costs will last “for a while.”

The problems have forced Texas cattle farmers to halt business and stop buying new inventory until economic recuperation is within reach.

“We’re kind of at a point where we can’t get more money for calves,” he said.

The poor crop conditions also caused a shortage of corn and forced grain prices to escalate.

The state’s hay crop is down around 30 percent, but because cattle numbers are reduced by roughly the same ratio, “we’ll probably get by this year,” Gill said. Cattle farmers will “just have to substitute what they’re feeding.”

While cattle can adjust to a new diet, horses have a more delicate digestive system and can be pickier eaters.

“The horse hay’s been the tougher thing to come by,” Gill said, and that’s been accompanied by “extremely” high prices for alfalfa, timothy and other grasses.

The good news for Texas is that some rain has fallen in the state’s wheat regions, he said.

But rebuilding the cow herd will take time.

Industry experts are trying to evaluate steps and make a program to get the pastures back in shape, he said.

While at KILE, Gill demonstrated effective methods to maneuver cattle in and out of chute systems and gates.

“How do you make a cow stop?” he said. “Cattle are like a semi, you’ve got to coax them to a stop.”

KILE show manager Jim Sharp said Gill provided helpful technical information.

“Ron’s main point was to use the animals’ natural behavior in order to work with them,” Sharp said. “He constantly reiterated ... don’t be in a hurry, don’t get them riled up. (Cattle) are going to follow a natural path.”

Jana Malot, who raises cattle with her husband on their farm, Uncle Clem’s Place in Harrisonville, Pa., helped organize the forum that included Gill.

“We want to be proactive” about providing educational opportunities for farmers, she said.

Gill’s demonstration showed how to communicate with cattle and explained cow psychology, Malot said.

“I call him the Cow Whisperer,” she said.

Learn more about Ron Gill at

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