LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Texas ranchers yearned for two years for greener pastures. Now with the drought behind them, ranchers and hay producers in some parts of the state are hampered by frequent rains that are keeping them out of fields.
In central and southeast Texas, the forage grasses have continued growing in fields because of the wet conditions. That translates to very mature hay that is lower in protein and higher in fiber.
Even when hay has been cut, ranchers or farmers have been prevented from baling it because of more rainfall that leaves the hay to soak in puddly fields.
“The rainfall will ruin it,” said Wayne Thompson, a Texas Cooperative Extension agent in Harris County. “And if they do bale it (when it’s too wet), it can mold.”
Then there’s the weeds that proliferate in the wet conditions. Sedge, a native, invasive weed with more than 100 varieties, is “out of control” in most pastures, he said.
“There’s a whole lot of problems with this weather we’re having now,” Thompson said. “It’s more than a double whammy.”
Hay is a month past harvest and quality was expected to suffer.
“When we get into the wintertime, producers are really going to have to pay attention to supplementing with additional protein and energy because the hay quality is lower than they’re used to,” said Jason Cleere, beef cattle specialist with the extension service.
Rainfall along and east of Interstate 35 isn’t expected to abate in the next two weeks, he said.
But at least there are forage grasses this year. From April 2005 until about December ranchers across the nation’s leading cattle producing state suffered from drought. In order to feed their cattle, they were forced to choose between paying exorbitant prices for short supplies of Texas hay or shelling out more in transportation costs to buy it from out of state.
Many culled their herds.
“This time last year we were praying for rain, and this year we’re inundated with it,” Cleere said. “Producers hate to complain about it because they remember the past two years.”
Some producers in West and North Texas allowed their herds to graze to bare ground during the drought. They are paying the price this year, Thompson said.
“That opened up the door, Pandora’s box, of weeds,” he said.
Now, though, the cost of hay won’t be a problem, said C.R. “Dick” Sherron, former president of the Fort Worth-based Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and a south Texas rancher.
“Hay will be a little less expensive than it was but every weather condition has it’s problems,” he said. “I will take the too much rain over the too little any day.”
Cattle that eat low-nutrient hay will lose weight, Sherron said, meaning supplemental feeding with high-protein feed.
During the drought, cattle didn’t even have pasture grasses on which to feed. That is different this year, despite the overly mature hay stands.
“They can walk around with their head down and eat something,” Thompson said.