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Following spring rainfall and forage recovery the Texas beef cattle herd is reboounding
<p>Following spring rainfall and forage recovery, the Texas beef cattle herd is reboounding.</p>

Rainfall helps Texas cattle herds rebound

Economists and ranchers are beginning to talk in a positive tone about the future of beef in Texas

You can read the instructions on the boxes and cartons of many food items at your local grocery store. On many of those products it is printed on the label very clearly: Just add water.

While raising cattle and mixing up a batch of pre-mixed pancake batter are, pardon the pun, very different animals, the truth rings clear for both. Put the water in the dry pancake meal, mix vigorously a few moments, and the batter is ready for the skillet.

While the Texas cattle industry suffered the brunt of the beating when drought decimated cattle herds in recent years, abundant spring showers and the rapid decline of drought conditions offers substantial hope to Lone Star cattlemen. Just a few months back many were wondering how many years it would take to rebuild herds after such heavy losses caused significant herd reduction because of forage and feed shortages.

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Economists and ranchers are beginning to talk in a positive tone about the future of beef in Texas and how spring rains provide the catalyst many were hoping for to help them escape the setbacks of so many dry years.

"The decline of the U.S. cow herd from 2010 to 2015 takes on an interesting characteristic. Of the more than 1.7-million head decline, the reductions in Texas alone were 960,000 head," reports David Widmar, an economist and researcher at Purdue’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business. "This is equivalent to 55 percent of the net U.S. decline. And while Texas has the largest share of the total U.S. herd, 14.1 percent in 2015, the reduction in U.S. herd size came disproportionately from Texas."

The decline in the Texas herd corresponded with a persistent drought starting in 2000 and continuing through most of 2014. As drought conditions were less severe late in that year, an increase in the cow herd size was slowly being realized, a trend that continued since the beginning of 2015. In fact, Texas accounted for more than 44 percent of the net U.S. herd increase over the last 12 months.

Disappearing drought

According to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, as of the end of May 2015, drought conditions in Texas have all but disappeared. Less than a year ago, the Southern Plains faced extreme drought with the worst conditions reaching from central Texas through the Oklahoma Panhandle. Nielsen-Gammon says this has changed significantly for the better, particularly over the past several weeks as round after round of rain and thunderstorms soaked most areas across the state.

At the beginning of 2012, nearly 100 percent of Texas was lingering between D2 and D4 drought stages. But by the beginning of June 2015, that percentage had decreased to less than 3 percent, a remarkable and somewhat unexpected turn around so quickly. As a result, confidence has been building among both economists and ranchers and it has been reflected by a more rapid recovery for the cow herd statewide.

"This sets the stage for a potential rebound in the Texas herd size," Widmar said in his latest onine blog. Should the Texas herd rebound to 2010 levels, the increase would equal a 3.2 percent increase in the entire U.S. herd. When thinking about the profitability of cow-calf producers moving forward, a careful eye on the size of the Texas herd and how they rebuild will be critical."

Texas AgriLife Extension has been working with cattle producers across the state by presenting a statewide educational initiative “Rebuilding the Beef Herd,” focusing on rebuilding breeding cattle inventories. During a series of workshops, five areas were of primary focus: challenges in agriculture financing, forage recovery, options for replacements, value of replacements, and generational turnover.

According to AgriLife workshop organizers, the state’s cattle industry is the second largest economic driver in the state, bringing billions of dollars to the Texas economy. With the cowherd at such a critically low level, Texas stands to lose industry infrastructure if cow numbers do not increase significantly during the present year.

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