Drought shrinking cattle herds

cows and mesas

QCS photo: Steven Hansen
Cattle graze on ranch land south of Tucumcari. County herds have been cut by a third.

By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing editor
Between 2009 and the first quarter of 2013, Quay County ranches have reduced their cattle herds by more than one third, according to the Quay County Assessor’s office.
County Assessor Janie Hoffman said the current drought has caused steep drops in the size of local ranch herds.
From the 2009 level of 46,844 head, the first-quarter 2013 cattle count has shrunk to a little more than 31,132 head-a drop of 33.5 percent.  About two-thirds of that reduction occurred between 2012 and the first quarter of 2013.  The decline totaled 8,403 head, or 21 percent, from the 2012 level to 2013’s first-quarter reading.
The assessed value of cattle in the county has also declined from about $6.2 million in 2009 to about $4.2 million in 2013, despite increases in price per pound. The market value of the cattle is about three times the assessed value, Hoffman said, meaning the market value of cattle would have been more than $18 million in 2009 and about $12 million in 2013.
Without relief, more cuts in ranch herds are expected, some area ranchers say.
Jim Bidegain, manager of the vast T-4 Ranch, based in Montoya, that encompasses parts of three counties, including Quay, said he has cut his Quay County herds by half since last year, leaving about 300 head in the Quay County portion.
“There isn’t enough grass,” he said.
Without rain to provide water for new grass, he said, more head will have to be cut this year.  T-4’s spread includes 180,000 acres in Quay, Guadalupe and  San Miguel counties..
Rainwater also feeds watering tanks on the T-4 and other ranches, and the drought has affected the amount of water available for cattle, too.
If there is no grass, Bidegain said, there will be better runoff when it does rain, but “what’s the use of full tanks if you have no cows to use them?”
Glenn Briscoe, owner of the Briscoe Ranch south of Tucumcari, said there are no cattle on his ranch for the first time in the 117 years his family has operated the spread.
The drought this year, he said, is “deeper and darker” than he’s ever seen. Briscoe said he started cutting his herd after unusually cold weather in the winter of 2009 killed the plants his cattle generally eat. Even spraying to get rid of non-native species that interfere with “good’ plants didn’t help, he said.
Kristen Holmes, manager of the Steve Trigg ranch outside Logan, said this week, ranch personnel will start to cull some of the oldest cattle from the ranch’s already reduced herds.
“We’ll be weaning some calves early,” she said, in order to allow the cutting of older cattle. If rainfall is still inadequate, she said, the ranch is likely to do another culling in the fall.
The ranch will keep about 300 head, she said, down from about 1,000 just a year ago.
Joe Culbertson, an owner and manager of the Culbertson ranch, said he has moved 40 head out of the north end of his ranch located near Nara Visa.
The drought, he said, is “very serious.” Several neighboring ranches, he said, are “getting rid of everything they have.”

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