Texas breeding cattle chased the rain in 2011 to plains states such as Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas -- even all the way to Florida -- tripling the amount shipped out of state the year before. That 150,000 head left this stricken country is only the latest metric by which to judge the huge toll the drought has taken on ranchers.
"Because of the drought, so many people in Texas were forced to sell off their cows because they couldn't afford to feed them and there's no grass," Texas A&M livestock economist Dr. David Anderson tells Unfair Park.
Coupled with the cattle sent streaming into stockyards and slaughterhouses, the export of breeding cattle had the effect of causing the greatest reduction in the state herd since the Great Depression. In total, we're looking at the smallest herd Texas has seen in half a century. And despite the winter rains, ranchers are still selling off breeding cows -- the engine of the Texas cow-calf operation -- at a steady clip.
"The number of beef cows going to slaughter is still at a fairly high level in this region," Anderson says.
For ranchers who can hold on, the depleted stock means higher calf prices at market, he adds. But for those looking to replenish their herd with replacement heifers, the buy-in will be high. "I think for 2012, we're looking at record high prices for calves, older cows and replacement cows."
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For the supermarket shopper, it means something else: Steak, hamburger, and any other cut of beef is going to be expensive as hell.