Back in 2009, Texas was experiencing a dry spell, forcing ranchers to empty hay barns. While a decent amount of hay was made
in 2010, most ranchers have been feeding cattle hay since October, rapidly depleting supplies.
The story is similar just north in Oklahoma where livestock auctions have two to three times the normal volume. A lack of
moisture over the winter has equaled a net loss of moisture in ponds and groundwater, and many areas are experiencing a stretch
of more than 30 consecutive days of 100-degree weather, says state veterinarian Rod Hall. "We're running out of water, have
no grass, no grass early, and people didn't make any hay," he says. "I've been in livestock in Oklahoma since 1965, and I've
never seen it anywhere near this bad before."
In New Mexico, this time of year is typically referred to as the monsoon season. But in 2011, there's no water to be had.
"We should be getting summer rains, but they have not been significant enough," says New Mexico State Veterinarian David Fly.
Adding fuel to the fire in New Mexico were, literally, fires. Severe blazes throughout the state were prompted by extended
dryness. State officials mobilized to move cattle, horses, sheep and other animals out of the fires' paths. In fact, the Los
Alamos fire is still burning, at least partially, Fly says, and has contributed to "significant livestock losses," but officials
are still working to tally the numbers.
In the drought-afflicted states, many cattle are being sold to slaughter, though others are being purchased by producers in
northern states, including the Dakotas, Colorado, Montana and others. Those states have had plenty of moisture—prompting flooding
in some areas—creating grass for grazing and keeping ponds full of water. Whatever the animals' fate, one thing's for certain,
Fly says. "Cattle are moving out of here."
But with the loss of breeding stock in drought-stricken states, the prospect for next year's calf crop is bleak. "It's a pretty
severe loss for the cattle industry," acknowledges Fly.