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Drought means trying times for Crossroads ranchers

By ALLISON MILES
May 31, 2011 at 12:31 a.m.

Mark Dierlam carries a bag a feed to a customer's truck Thursday at the Dierlam Feed Store.  The recent dry spell is forcing more ranchers to supplement grass with hay and other kinds of feed for their animals to eat.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For ways to weather the drought, contact the Victoria County extension office at 361-575-4581.

The scene on Lynn Utz's pastures isn't exactly ideal.

Dry conditions mean less grass than usual, he said, and one pasture has completely dried up. The grass that is there is not as green as he would like.

"We've had some rain and it's greened stuff up," said Utz, who ranches just north of Edna. "But that's a temporary deal. If we got more, it would be a blessing."

And Utz isn't alone.

Texas' ongoing drought has many ranchers feeling the pinch.

Ranching takes faith, Yoakum rancher Otto "Jimmy" Borchers said. Although a producer can do everything he's supposed to do, it doesn't pay off if Mother Nature doesn't cooperate.

"Cattle prices are better this year, but if there's no rain, you can't take advantage of it," Borchers, 80, said. "I've been involved in this since age 5 and I've seen the ups, downs, wet, dry, almost all of it."

On Tuesday, Victoria sat in a D4 or "exceptional" drought level, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor website.

Although a farmer can make up for a bad season the next time around, a drought carries long-term effects for cattlemen, Borchers said.

Animals' breeding patterns get out of whack, he explained, and it can take two or three years to get things back to normal.

Lack of nutrition sometimes leads to a lack of a cycle, he said. That means either the cow does not rebreed or the calf is born during the summer months, which isn't ideal.

Borchers has one pasture out of grass and, with his cows getting thin, plans to take his calves off soon and sell.

"You just have to take it," he said, explaining his herd still isn't back to what it was before 2008's drought. "That's all you can do."

The dry conditions mean a slight business increase for Dierlam Feed Store, said David Dierlam, a partner in the business.

Ranchers recently began purchasing molasses, hay and supplemental proteins to make up for what cattle can't get in the fields.

"That little bit of rain we got a while back wasn't enough to get people over that hump," Dierlam said.

As for Utz, he said he recently sold off some lighter calves to ease the pressure. While he usually runs about 90 head of cattle, he's now down to about 75.

He recently began feeding the cattle some hay he had left over from winter. He said that, like most other ranchers, he plans to just continue plowing forward in hopes that rain will soon make its way to the region.

"This is when we usually accumulate the rain in the ground to carry us through the hot summer," he said. "But right now, it doesn't look good."

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