Dry spell devastates herds of beef cattle

Author: Kristy

By Bloomberg News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 6:57 p.m.

CHICAGO — Three years after the worst dry spell on record for Texas, fourth-generation rancher Stayton Weldon does not have enough water for his 300 cattle near Cuero, about 90 miles southeast of San Antonio.

Dry grass on his 2,600 acres has no nutrition. He has lost 22 cows and two bulls in the past year.

“We need rain — bad,” the 75-year-old Weldon said, looking at animals scraping at patchy grass on land that his family has been on since 1856. “We’ve got tremendous drought problems. It cuts your herd size down because people have to sell off to provide for the cattle that are left.”

The cattle herd in the United States, the world’s largest beef producer, fell to the smallest in 63 years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data released Friday. More than 80 percent of Texas, the biggest producing state, is abnormally dry, and ranchers such as Weldon are struggling to recover.

Fewer cattle means production in the $85 billion beef industry will drop to a 20-year low in 2014, the Department of Agriculture said. Retail costs for the meat are at an all-time high, government data show.

American ranchers held 87.99 million head of cattle as of Jan. 1, according to the average estimate of six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. That’s the fewest for the date since 1951 and would mark the seventh straight year of contraction.

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