Drought changes livestock management practices  Assistance available for ranchers in Tri-County

Hereford cow. Avalanche photo by Gail Diane Yovanovich




Severe drought this year has affected ranchers throughout the Tri-County. Brewster County has been hit especially hard, and help is here for those who need it.

The USDA Farm Service Agency last week announced that Brewster County ranchers and livestock producers could apply for assistance for grazing losses suffered in 2020.

Agency Executive Director Carla Spencer said drought conditions in the county triggered the program’s availability.

The program covers a wide variety of pasture types, and to qualify an eligible livestock producer must own or lease grazing land or pastureland physically located in the county. Eligible livestock include beef cattle, alpacas, buffalo/bison, deer, elk, equine, goats, llamas, and other animals that have been or would have been grazing the land during the normal grazing period. Ranches in Jeff Davis and Presidio counties may also be eligible.

Although not all may require federal assistance, drought has forced some ranchers in Brewster and neighboring counties to change the way they manage their livestock, including Gates Ranch in Marfa.

Tyler Gates noted their cows didn’t have green grass to support their calves any longer, so they were weaned earlier than normal.

“It’s just a month early, but the prices we’re getting is the biggest cost to us. Prices are lower than normal for sure,” said Gates. “We’re going to be okay, but it wasn’t a year where we did exceptionally well weaning our calves.”

She noted that their cows were pregnant again, and the whole point of weaning early was to save stress on the cows.

“If we take care of our cows, they’ll take care of us,” Gates said.

Dawn Lacy of o6 Ranch in Brewster and Jeff Davis counties said their operation had also been affected by the 2020 drought.

Said Lacy, “A lot of people don’t have rain, and things aren’t going well. Everybody has to move cattle because we’re running out of grass. We’ve always weaned calves for 45 days, and held them to let them recover from losing mama.”

After the calves gained back the weight they lost during weaning, the ranch would normally send them to market in November or December.

“But we’re going to have to go early, take them right off mama, and onto a truck,” said Lacy.

She noted that because of the ranch’s size, it had its own microclimates, and cattle could be moved from one area to another when one section runs out of grass.

“So that’s been a benefit, and we’re a little better off than some folks on that. We’ve had a little rain at a couple of places, but nothing to brag about,” said Lacy.

She also praised their renowned Highland Herefords, noting that they would graze far higher country than other breeds.

Ranchers requiring assistance must provide a completed application and supporting documents to their FSA office within 30 days after the end of the calendar year in which the grazing loss occurred. Applicants should collect records documenting their losses.

For more information, call the Brewster-Jeff Davis-Presidio County FAS office at 432-837-2325, or visit farmers.gov/recover. A map of eligible counties may be found at the FSA.USDA.gov.

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