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Producers respond to lack of rain by reducing herd size

Posted on June 25, 2015 by Maple Creek

By Marcia Love
The dry summer may not be significantly affecting crops yet, but it’s having a big impact on cattle producers.
With hay land across the Southwest suffering, farmers are cutting down their herd size.
More cattle than usual are making their way through both Cowtown Livestock Exchange and Heartland Livestock Services in Swift Current.
“The last month… we’ve had probably the biggest runs we’ve had,” said Tyler Cronkhite, manager at Cowtown Livestock.
The lack of rain has meant the auction mart has been selling 600-800 head a week. At the same time last year it ran 300-500.
“We’ve been selling a lot of big drafts of yearlings that would sell in August, and due to the lack of grass, they’re selling them… so they can put the cow-calf pairs on that grass,” Cronkhite said.
Precipitation has varied across the Southwest in the last month. While Maple Creek received about half an inch of rain last week, the Eastend area saw six-tenths and Ravenscrag an inch, but further east received nothing. It’s even drier in the northern part of the region.
Todd Humphrey, who farms five miles north of Eastend, said while two good snows in April brought moisture, it was the late frost that hurt his hay land more than anything. But he isn’t planning to sell any of his cattle.
“We’ve got some carryover,” he said, adding his oats look good, too. “We’re going to buy some barley, buy some pellets.”
For those buying hay and bringing it in, the price adds up.
“I talked to a guy who had just brought in hay and it came from Manitoba, and it was $225 a ton,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey, who is also a livestock inspector, noted Heartland had 1,200 head come through last week – about four times what it would normally see this time of year.
“They’re forced to (sell now), but they’re still taking a decent profit now,” Cronkhite said, noting come August producers might get the same dollar amount.
But Humphrey, like many other farmers, would love to have the hay with the good prices.
“You get out of the slump,” he said, “and then you get to spend all the extra money that you might have put toward something else on hay.”

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