Winter Pastures

Cattle graze in a pasture on the Northwest side of El Campo earlier this winter. Local ranchers have a positive outlook for the cattle market in 2020 if the new year brings plentiful rain. 

Faced with a poor cattle market and dry winter pastures, El Campo area cattle ranchers have spent the last few months battling obstacles, but a shortage of hay was not one of them.

“I think ranchers had a decent hay crop for the most part,” Managing Partner at JD Hudgins, Inc. John Locke said. “In our area, in Wharton County, (it) was fairly decent, but the pasture situation is pretty tough because it’s been extremely dry from about midsummer on.”

The United States Department of Agriculture released their latest Texas Crop Progress and Condition report on Dec. 9.

“The lack of moisture throughout the state forced producers to continue supplemental feeding. Range and pasture conditions remained mostly fair to poor,” according to the report.

Cattle ranchers face a smaller grass and hay supply for their herds during often dry winter months.

“If we had a bad growing season for hay, then that usually produces a winter shortage for hay, but we didn’t have that,” Powell said. “We had a pretty decent growing season.”

Locke and Powell agreed the cattle market is down.

“That’s what’s so frustrating about cattle is fertilizer, chemicals, everything goes up but the price of cattle tends to stay fairly low,” Powell said. “On the retail side, prices are still very high. Cattlemen (don’t) seem to get any of the benefit of a high retail cost of beef.”

The new year may have a market uptick in store, according to Locke.

“The futures market is looking better, so if we get decent rain and if some of our trade agreements and stuff go through, then we’re pretty sure that 2020 is going to be better than 2019 was,” Locke said.

At the end of 2018, Texas ranchers reported hay shortages across the state, causing worry for cattle ranchers who were running low. recommends using whole-kernal corn as a primary feed for mature beef cattle if ranchers are short on grass and hay.

While other products can successfully supplement cattle’s typical diet, Locke and Powell advised to incorporate some hay or grass.

“I would never feed my cattle pure corn,” Powell said.

Locke agreed. “For me, whole corn is not a replacement for hay or grass.”

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