Agribusiness  August 5, 2005

Herd numbers recover slowly from drought’s harsh impacts

AULT – Kent Lynch is in repair mode.

The rancher, whose land lies northeast of Ault, is watching rain repair his dry and thirsty land. As conditions improve, he is improving the size of his herd.

Continuing drought conditions and increasing heifer and calf prices are making recovery tough, but Lynch and others in the industry are optimistic. Rangeland conditions have improved over most of the state, and producers are starting to reintroduce cattle to the pasture.

“Overall we had a good spring with a lot of moisture in late April,´ said Lynch, co-owner of Lynch Ranch. “It was a fantastic start, but now that it has gotten hot and dry we will have to see how the grass does.”

According to the Society for Range Management in Denver, producers need to re-introduce cattle slowly to the fragile rangeland to prevent killing growing grasses and causing erosion. The Society estimates that 37 percent of Colorado is considered rangeland, so the proper recovery of this land is important statewide.

“The idea is not to put cattle on the land as soon as the rains return because it may not be able to handle the stress,´ said Doug Powell, rangeland management specialist with the society. “You have to let the forage base recover first and you may not be able to get the max usage out of it because of the possibility of some erosion.”

Lynch has followed this advice as he increases the number of cattle on his land.

He plans on having 200 cattle at full operation; at the moment he has 160. During the worst years of the drought, Lynch sold 75 percent of his cattle and fed the rest on purchased feed.

His story is indicative of the statewide trend.

Through the drought, from 1999 through 2004, ranchers and feeders sold 800,000 head of cattle statewide, according to the Colorado Agricultural Statistics Service. Last year, the state added 100,000 head, an indication of increased confidence of producers.

“Herd numbers have turned a corner towards repopulation,´ said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “Herd numbers aren’t improving as quickly as we would like to see them because of other underlying factors, primarily price of replacement heifers.”

Fankhauser said the increased demand for heifers and calves has raised their prices to unattainable or unattractive levels for most producers.

“It’s Economics 101,” he said. “We are at the bottom of a 10-year trend and now everybody is looking to restock, which increases demand, leading to higher prices.”

He said another reality of the drought and producers selling most or all of their herd is that some producers may not come back into the market. He attributes an aging population of ranchers along with increased land values to a possible decline permanently to statewide herd numbers.

“Some guys are just saying ‘enough is enough’ and calling it quits,” he said.

“It is speculative to say we will have a lower record high but it is not unfair,” Fankhauser added. “With a burgeoning population along the Front Range it is more profitable to grow houses instead of cattle.”

New homeland security veterinarian

Bill Bennett of Galeton is the new homeland security veterinarian with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

His role is to educate members of the livestock industry on the development of Colorado’s preparedness strategy, including prevention, preparedness, response and recovery after a livestock disease or terrorism threat against agriculture animals.

Bennett said he recognizes the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 affected everyone and this position allows him to help inform those in need about warning signs and precautions to protect their operations.

He used the example of a “dirty bomb missing its Denver target and landing east of Greeley,” as one way of showing the importance of his new position. “If that happened we could have100,000 cows with nuclear or toxic exposure.”

Bennett wants to work with allied agricultural groups to help ensure animal safety in Colorado not only from terrorist threats but also from disease risks.

Bennett earned his veterinary medical degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and is a former manager of quality assurance for Swift and Co. He also operates a 110-acre family farm with forage crops and quarter horses near Eaton.

Kim Lock is the agriculture reporter for the Northern Colorado Business Report. To suggest column ideas contact her at (970) 221-5400 ext. 222 or at klock@ncbr.com.

AULT – Kent Lynch is in repair mode.

The rancher, whose land lies northeast of Ault, is watching rain repair his dry and thirsty land. As conditions improve, he is improving the size of his herd.

Continuing drought conditions and increasing heifer and calf prices are making recovery tough, but Lynch and others in the industry are optimistic. Rangeland conditions have improved over most of the state, and producers are starting to reintroduce cattle to the pasture.

“Overall we had a good spring with a lot of moisture in late April,´ said Lynch, co-owner of Lynch Ranch. “It was a…

Related Content