DALHART, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Rancher Larry Alford knows all too well what many of his fellow farmers and ranchers are going through right now.
“You don’t run near as many cattle and you’ve got to sell some you don’t really want to,” he said.
The ongoing drought and the cost of care are pushing more cattle to market sooner than normal.
“That’s why a lot of the little light calves are selling right now, you usually come in the fall, but there’s nothing for them to eat,” he explained.
“We’re seeing a lot of calves and yearlings are coming to town early that normally wouldn’t be sold until sometime in October,” said Curtis Lockhart, owner of Cattleman’s Livestock Commission Company. “So a lot of the calves are light, on average, probably 50 to 100 pounds lighter than what they normally are for this time of year.”
Why such a large number of early sell-offs?
“Hay, cubes, pellets, protein sources of any kind. Those products have more than doubled in price this year,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart told us they’re seeing about a 35% increase in the number of cattle coming through his auction compared to the average summer.
“We’re selling cows so that our cow herd as a nation is probably, I would, I would assume it’s probably the lowest numbers we’ve had in quite some time. So as far as our cow herd that’s diminished,” he emphasized.
A diminished herd is driving up the price for calves and yearlings, mix that with high demand, and it’s a perfect storm for higher prices. But, auction houses aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of these early sell-offs.
“They’re going to feed yards, they’re kind of plugging up some of these feed yards. So that’s going to be an issue short term,” Lockhart predicted.
Jason Smith, Associate Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist at Texas A&M Agrilife Extension explained, “moving forward, conditions are going to be really challenging for feed yards.”
“Not only are there fewer cattle, that means that those cattle are going to be more expensive for those feed yards to purchase them.”
So, how expensive is it for ranchers to care for livestock?
Lockhart says in an average year, cattle in this area go for about a dollar per pound. In 2021, it was about eighty cents a pound.
“Because of the price of corn and hay and protein prices, we’re easily at $1. 30 $1.40 right now. I’m hearing some higher,” he said.
It’s a problem that could also affect the auctions themselves.
“If we have a market that typically markets a certain number of animals, they typically have buyers for a certain amount of animals. If we receive a far greater number of animals for that market on that week, there will probably be buyers for those animals, they’re not going to be as likely to bid those animals as high as they would’ve if there was more demand,” Associate Professor Smith said.
All of it, boiling down to one issue.
“I mean, it just you can’t afford to keep the cost of gains too high. I mean, you’re not getting enough return for your money,” Alford emphasized.