Extension Agent: Service focuses on rebuilding beef inventories

Anthony Netardus

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service is beginning a statewide educational initiative "Rebuilding the Beef Herd" focusing on rebuilding breeding cattle inventories within the state. There will be five areas of focus, challenges in agriculture financing, forage recovery, options for replacements, value of replacements, and generational turnover.

For the past two decades, there has been a continual decline in cattle numbers within the state. The historic drought of 2011 dramatically accentuated that trend. Other factors, such as competing land use, economics, drought and availability of financing have all contributed to decline in livestock inventories.

The state's cattle industry and affiliated trade and service companies are the second largest economic driver in the state, bringing billions of dollars to the state economy. With the cowherd at such a critically low level, Texas is poised to lose industry infrastructure if cow numbers do not increase.

To kick this initiative off there will be a series of in-depth, educational programs held across the state. These programs will begin in April and will continue throughout the year. If you are interested in attending one of these programs in this part of Texas, DeWitt and Lavaca counties will be sponsoring a program to be held in Yoakum in May.

The exact date, time and place are being worked out, so check with the extension offices for details, or watch for future advertisement.

Other programs are scheduled for Midland, Alice, Graham, Abilene and Athens. Cost to attend is $40 if registered in advance and $50 to register on-site. Registration is available online at agriliferegister.tamu.edu (keyword: beef).

Program topics include: changes in lending policies that will impact availability of capital to reinvest in cattle; balancing forage recovery with cattle inventory recovery; systematic approach to evaluating options for securing replacement females and developing a logical and systematic system to evaluate the worth of available replacement females.

Producers will have the urge to rebuild as soon as possible but it will be important to match rebuilding strategies with management of forage resources that allow for pasture recovery.

Whatever the source of replacement cattle, pasture recovery will need to be the priority. Sessions will also discuss the need for caution in restocking due to ongoing uncertainty with weather patterns following the devastating 2011 drought.

As producers try to expand herds they are going to be faced with the lowest numbers of replacement females in recent history from which to select. One session will focus on developing a systematic approach to evaluating replacement female alternatives.

It's important that as herds are rebuilt, producers take into account the value and need for environmental adaptability of cows used to rebuild the cowherd. The program sessions will also include discussions on such issues as herd health, bio-security and creating strategic inventory flexibility into an operation.

Research information from the past on cow longevity, retained heterosis and ongoing work on cow efficiency will be invaluable to producers as cowherds are rebuilt. This type of information will be shared in the programs offered across the state.

Another critical area of concern facing the agricultural sector is generational turnover. The ongoing drought has been so severe that many producers have decided to not go back into the cattle industry.

Recent surveys indicate that as high as 25 percent of producers who have sold cattle because of drought do not intend to go back into beef production and another 10 to 15 percent indicate they may seek alternative livestock enterprises if they do go back into production.

If this property is taken out and put into real estate development, recreational or wildlife use or sits idle, it will have long-term implications on the future of the Texas beef cattle industry.

It's important to long-term sustainability of the beef industry that this range/pasture land does not drop out of cattle production. One special session will be devoted to the topic of how to develop a long-term relationship between landowners and land lessors.

There are a large number of young men and women that want to go into ranching, but do not have the capital or the experience in some cases to start an operation.

Developing partnerships with family members or others in the community will allow a new generation of ranchers to emerge during this recovery process. This complicated issue and the challenges that lie ahead will be addressed.

The Texas livestock industry is not solely dependent upon the livestock produced within the state. The stocker and finishing phases depend upon inventory that comes from a large geographical area.

Calves from the southeastern states and Mexico are critical to supplying inventory to support the grazing of warm season forages during spring and summer programs and winter annuals during the fall and winter grazing cycle.

These cattle, along with the calves produced within Texas, supply most of the cattle feeding and packing industry in the High Plains and South Texas.

Further erosion in cattle inventories in Texas and the southeastern states will result in loss of infrastructure within all of these sectors.

As the population increases and the demand for proteins continues to rise, the need is for more beef cattle numbers and increasing supply of high quality protein to meet the increasing demand.

Anthony Netardus is a DeWitt County Extension Agent - Agriculture.