Texas ranchers, bowed under the driest year in state history, are looking to Gov. Rick Perry for help. In an online petition, they're asking him to use the Texas National Guard and any state resources at his disposal to bring hay into the starving ranch country. Drought has withered much of the forage, forcing ranchers to feed cubes and hay to supplement the diet of their cattle. But as the forage goes, so does the hay. Texas's hay crop has been decimated.
They've looked north, to states like Missouri with bumper crops to spare. Problem is, it's expensive. Hay has edged near $100 a bale. Double that figure to account for the trucking costs and it becomes unaffordable. Some Christian organizations have organized "hay lifts," donating bales from farmers in Iowa, for example, to churches in Texas used as distribution points. But in a state with a multi-billion dollar beef industry as vast as Texas's, it isn't enough. The result: Texas herds are being liquidated, as we found in a recent cover story. Agricultural losses must have already blown past the $5.2 billion figure Texas A&M calculated back in August.
Because NOAA predicts the drought will linger into the winter and spring at the very least, Ranch Hand Rescue, a nonprofit farm animal rescue organization, has posted the petition on Change.org beseeching Perry for help. So far, nearly 1,800 have signed on.
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The drought has created a hay crisis of monumental proportion. Hay has reached record costs and finding new resources is extremely difficult and expensive. Hay has tripled in price since July 2011.
People have great concerns about losing their animals and their ranches due to the extreme circumstances. Many farmers -- facing no hay and no money -- are abandoning their animals, many of which are starving to death. Dry pastures and lack of hay leave these individuals feeling they have no other choices.
For those of us in farm animal rescue, these costs are crippling us. We have grave concerns about keeping our current rescued animals maintained, and some rescue groups may not be able to survive the current hardships. In addition, the lack of hay and rising costs impede the rescue efforts of all groups. Animal rescue demands are rising because of animal owners not being able to support their current herds.
Aside from praying for rain, the governor's been pretty quiet on the suffering in Texas ranch country. Unfair Park put in a call to his office to see if he'd heard about the petition and whether he'd consider it. We heard back from Perry spokesman Josh Havens, who sent this statement via email:
Unfortunately, Texas is in the midst of a serious drought, and the lack of significant rainfall has fueled a devastating wildfire season. Since his initial disaster declaration in December of last year, Gov. Perry has activated all available state resources to respond, including Texas National Guard ground and aviation assets.
As drought conditions persist, the state emergency management team will continue to work with its local and federal partners to ensure the health and safety needs of Texans are addressed as quickly and efficiently as possible. For example, the Texas Department of Agriculture has established a Hay Hotline to help Texas producers who are in need of hay locate those who have it available for sale or donation. The Hay Hotline also connects ranchers with available grazing lands and transportation services to deliver hay. Currently, 42 states with 1,000 hay listings are represented on the hotline.
A Hay Hotline helps, sure, but the problem isn't finding the hay, it's getting it here. Some ranchers have been draining their bank accounts on feed since last winter. They'd love to buy hay from those 42 states, but they're asking the governor for help transporting it.