ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Cattle prices were reportedly down nearly half of what they were in 2019-2020 Tuesday, due to rising feed costs and the extreme drought hitting the Big Country, leading cattlemen to sell off and work to make end’s meet.
It was bumper-to-cattle trailer Tuesday morning at the Abilene Livestock Auction, as trailers of all sizes were hauling in more cows than you could count.
By 10:15 a.m., it was already hitting 90 degrees in Abilene, and the dust surrounding the auction grounds began to stir as nearly 2,000 head of cattle were dropped off to be sold.
Cattleman Rex Bland said it’s arguably the hottest summer we’ve had in his time working cattle. He began in the cattle industry in 1968, and has seen just about every weather extreme you could imagine.
“We have something like these every 10 to 21 years,” Bland said. “But this may be the worst one. I know for my water at home, it has dropped off worse than it did any other time.”
On par or worse than the dreaded 2011 drought, Bland said the extreme heat has caused a lack of natural grazing and water sources, leaving local ranchers helpless when it comes to feeding their cattle regularly.
With no natural sources and rising prices for feed, hay bales, fertilizer and more, Big Country cattlemen have no choice but to sell off their livestock just to try and break even.
For some, that meant staying up all hours of the night working to get their animals on the auction block.
“We started yesterday morning at the other barn at 10:00, and we finished selling this morning at 8:30,” General Manager of the Abilene Livestock Auction Henry Pickett said.
In charge of two different auctions, one in Graham and one in Abilene, Pickett said he was running on no sleep as he organized the sale of thousands of cattle brought in from across West Texas.
“We had over 4,000 head with about 1,300 cows at the other location, and we’re expecting over 2,000 head here with about 700 to 800 cows,” Pickett explained.
It was a far greater number than the Abilene Livestock Auction is used to seeing on any given Tuesday. In fact, Pickett said it is nearly a 40% increase in the amount of cattle since the beginning of the 2022 year.
However, when prices were high in 2019-2020, more mature animals were being brought into the auction house. But now, Pickett said ranchers are selling their animals early to make as much money as possible.
“Not only are the calves coming to town lighter, but a lot of young cows that need to stay in the country are coming to town,” Pickett said.
Between inflation causing input costs to rise, a lack of resources and prior packing plants dictating the prices for which ranchers are paid, many of these cattle ranchers are finding themselves putting in more than they are receiving each year.
And for some, that means either selling a majority of their livestock or even selling out to try and stay afloat.
For Bland and his many years of experience, he said the only thing that will bust this drought is 30-days of hard rainfall or 8-10 inches in a shorter period of time. He believes that, along with some steadier rainfall, can jumpstart the growth again.
Bland also said, regarding the consumer’s interest, the prices of ground beef should stay relatively low. But quality cuts of meat; such as briskets and steaks could see a significant uptick in price if the current conditions continue like they are.
The cattle market contributes close to $230 million ($228,779,940) to the Big Country’s economy every year, according to the Abilene Chamber of Commerce.