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2005 DroughtWith 84 counties in Texas requesting aid due to the drought, � many are wondering how they will get by during winter WAITNG FOR RAIN ndy Scasta, manager of Box S Ca le ranch near Bryan, pushes blocks of iIfalfa hay to bred Braford heifers. Forage in the ranch's pasture is at Lack of fall precipitation has ranchers on hunt for hay By BEVERLY MOSELEY Eagle Staff Writer inding a needle in a haystack might I prove easier right now than finding a roll of hay for sale in Texas. Cattle ranchers in much of the state are facing hay shortages due to drought condi- tions that cut into this year's hay production. "The calls are definitely picking up. We ' started getting phone calls during the hurri- canes with folks looking for some hay, and they have been picking up since then," said Allen Spelce, assistant commissioner for communications at the Texas Department of Agriculture in Austin. "Most farmers and ranchers plan for a hot, dry summer, and when the fall rains didn't come, that's when we started getting those calls. It's dry out there." Spelce said that statewide, about 72 per- cent of the pastures and rangeland are in poor to very poor condition, and 28 percent are in fair to good condition. View from a window The extent of the drought's viewed from a truck window Cattle ranch outside Bryan. Normally, lush, tall forage Eagle photo /Beverly Moseley least 9 inches tall in a g ood year. Instead, drought conditions have creat- ed a pasture of crackling, stubby grass. damage can be at the Box S covers the ranch's expansive: pastures, where cow-calf pairs and replacement heifers graze. When owner W.C. Scasta rides the ranch now, it's over brown pastures crackling with stubby grass. To add insult to injury, the oats and rye grass he planted for winter grazing haven't come up, and his water tanks are going dry. "This is the worst drought we've seen in this area so far since 1953. We have less for- age and water on the place," Scasta said. "We know we'll be feeding through the win- ter months until sometime in March. My See DROUGHT, Page E2 Drought room El concern is, if we don't have a turnaround by the end of the normal feeding season." Scasta estimated that ranch has received only inches of rain this year. hay cutting is all he was to harvest. "Normally we get two to three cuttings," Scasta said. This year, he made about 275 round bales of hay — roughly half his normal hay production. He has had to buy some rolls of hay. Scasta's normal hay feeding routine also includes 3x3x8 blocks of alfalfa that he bought in June. He started feeding hay to some of the ranch's cattle in October. January is the nor- mal start date for feeding hay. Scasta meets wintertime nutritional needs of young cattle, calves and replacement heifers with hay, Beefmaker grain mix and breeder cubes. Cows are supplemented with breeder cubes and hayed as needed. "We do have some cattle in normal years we don't even hay," he said. It normally costs Scasta an average of $75 to $85 per head for winter feeding. However, given the drought, Scasta projected that cost could increase $50 per head this year. In September, he began culling his cow herd in antici- pation of prolonged drought conditions. State of drought A drought line crosses the State from Del Rio to Wichita Falls with varying degrees of the 9 One able drought conditions east and south of that line, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. These conditions have cre- ated a situation where the amount of acreage of cut hay and the yields off that acreage are down. "Our normal production statewide is normally around 12 million tons of hay. Last year we were at 12,295,000 tons. This year we are at 9,710,000, which makes us about 2 1/2 million tons below last year," said Robin Roark, state director of the Texas office of the USDA's national agricultural statistics service. "There's two reasons that's off — because of the 500,000 acres less being cut, and then the other thing is it looks like yields are three - tenths of a ton an acre less than last year." Eighty -four of Texas' 254 counties have requested USDA drought assistance, and 28 of those requests have been granted, according to Gov. Rick Perry's press office. Brenda Carlson, Southwest regional public affairs spe- cialist with the USDA Farm Service Agency, said the only assistance program available is through the emergency loan program. "For those producers who do not currently carry the NAP [Noninsured Crop Disas- ter Assistance Program, which deadlined Dec. 1] cov- erage, low- interest emergency loans are the only assistance available. That's not to say that as the need grows, policy - makers won't consider addi- tional assistance programs." Hunting hay Whether they grow their own hay or buy it, ranchers share one common problem — having enough hay to get through the winter. "We normally do sell some hay, and we've been getting a lot of calls from people want- ing to get hay," said Steve Densmore, cattle manager at Circle X Land and Cattle Co. in Bryan. "Due to the lack of rain and not being able to have the normal production we'd normally have, we don't have any excess hay to sell." A buoy rests on a dry area of Lake Lavon in Farmersville. Texas got only 21.5 inches of rain in the first 11 months of 2005, prompting burn bans in half of its 254 counties. Farmers and ranchers are scrambling for water for their crops and hay to feed their cattle. AP photo Densmore said they usually make 6,000 to 7,000 rolls of hay a year. "This year we put up maybe 4,500 — if that much," Densmore said. He estimated that the ranch has received 4 inches of rain since the beginning of sum- mer. They got one hay cutting from nonirrigated land and two cuttings off irrigated hay meadows. Cattle on the ranch are sup- plemented with whole cotton- seed purchased by the truck- load. "We're using cottonseed to help stretch hay out through the winter," Densmore said, adding that he started small- scale supplemental feeding in early November and will have to be conservative with his hay. M &M Farm Supply in Franklin has seen an increase in the amount of dry -based feeds and range cubes they're selling. "I think people are resigned to the fact they are going to have to spend a little extra," said Steve Conrad, president of M &M Farm Supply. "They want to take care of these cows. Calves are still bringing good money." He echoed Scasta's concern about drought conditions extending into spring. "Another six months and we don't get rain this spring, people are going to be selling cows," he said. Linda Galayda, owner of Jordens Cattle Company in Palestine, doesn't produce hay on her ranch. She con- tracts with a commercial hay producer to provide the 1,300 rolls of hay needed to get her 500 -head commercial Brangus herd through the winter and into spring. This year she was able to purchase only 800 rolls of hay. "These hay producers are just as stressed as the people looking for hay. They put all that money into fertilizer and didn't get any production because of no moisture," Galayda said. "They're in as much hurt and bind financially as any- body. The producers have worked very hard to keep up with their commitments." She has purchased 200 hay rolls from the Crockett area. The search continues for 250 more rolls. "I have made over 50 phone calls looking for that 250 rolls," she said. She's received quotes for fertilized quality hay ranging from $30 to $60 a roll, adding that the problem is twofold — finding hay and finding good - quality hay. Galayda makes supplemen- tation decisions based on the quality of her hay. "If I've got good quality hay at 10 to 12 percent, I use a 20- percent breeders cube. Any- thing less, I use a 38- percent cottonseed cube," she said. She also keeps out a miner- al supplement. The drought also has affect- ed her stocking rate deci- sions. She had planned to buy 50 replacement heifers. She's now buying 30. "I cut back, but I can't cut back too much because it will affect my future," she said. • Beverly Moseley's e -mail address is beverly.moseley@ theeagle.com.