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Texas ranchers feel drought sting

“Our cattle in the Rio Grande Valley are starving because of the poor pasture conditions,” says San Juan, Texas, rancher Arnoldo Cantu´, who, along with his son, David, has 150 head of cattle scattered over three South Texas counties.

With less than 3 inches of total rain this year and no water coming from Mexico, water has run out even on the 750 irrigated acres that Cantu´ planted to grass.

Cantu´ and David take hay and feed they mix themselves to the cattle. In order for the herd to survive, the Cantus move their cattle to different acreage they lease. “We have a windmill at one place and some wells on others,” says Cantu, “that provide some water.”

But it’s hard to stay in the cattle business with the water situation the way it is, so many ranchers are selling off their herd. “And they’re getting less for their cattle than the money they’ve got into them,” he says. “They’re lucky to get $200 a head in the sale yard.” A rancher is losing the battle all the way around.

As if that isn’t enough bad news, in June the USDA downgraded Texas’ tuberculosis status in cattle from tuberculosis free to modified-accredited advanced tuberculosis status, after officials found two contaminated herds in 2001. The new status means that breeding cattle, unless they are moving directly to slaughter, must be officially identified and tested for tuberculosis 60 days prior to transport across state lines.

Additional restrictions on moving feeder animals, including steers, bull calves and heifers destined for grazing and feeding for slaughter, will be delayed until next January 1.

This means a lot of planning for ranchers before they sell or move breeding cattle to another state. State Ag Commissioner Susan Combs is urging all ranchers to educate themselves about bovine TB and to be aware of the USDA’s change in TB status.

Otherwise, it will be one more blow to ranchers who are already suffering from the drought and poor market conditions.

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