Extreme heat and drought in Texas put cattle industry at risk
This is Texas’ second straight summer under severe drought conditions due to high-pressure heat domes, and cattle are taking strain.
For the second year in a row, drought and extreme heat are stressing cattle farmers in Texas, causing some ranchers to think about thinning their herds.
Drought and extreme heat have plagued Texas this summer, straining the state’s massive cattle industry.
About 86% of Texas’ land area was experiencing drought conditions as of Aug. 8, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Over 3,000 square miles are currently under exceptional drought conditions — the highest category of drought.
Texas is the top beef-producing state in the United States by far, but the weather conditions this summer have impacted most elements of the industry — how much milk cows produce, the way in which cattle fatten up, reproduction and the eventual price of beef.
This is Texas’ second straight summer under severe drought conditions. Last year, drought conditions that affected almost the entire state led to the decimation of pastures, crops and drinking water. Ranchers in East Texas sold more than 2.66 million cattle from January 2022 through August of that year, Reuters reported, which was an increase of more than 480,000 cattle from the same time frame in 2021.
CANADIAN, TX - JULY 28: Cattle use a tree for shade as temperatures rose above 100 degrees in a pasture July 28, 2011, near Canadian, Texas. A severe drought has caused shortages of grass, hay and water, in much of the state, forcing ranchers to thin their herds or risk losing their cattle to the drought. The past nine months have been the driest in Texas since record-keeping began in 1895, with 75% of the state classified as exceptional drought, the worst level. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
“Now we hit August and this is normally our hottest, driest time of the year ... and the only thing I can think of, sometimes it calls for selling cows,” rancher David Henderson, 62, told Reuters. Henderson manages a herd of cows in East Texas, and noted that the grass is not growing due to the drought conditions, and the heat can reduce cattle appetite. Amid drought conditions in 2022, he had to thin his herd by about 30 cows.
Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist, said it takes a strong weather system to keep a region in drought for so long, and that heat and drought are part of a cycle. Dry ground makes it easier for the sun to heat an area, he said, because the sun’s energy doesn’t have to be devoted toward evaporating moisture from the ground.
“Long-term heat and drought tend to go together,” Sosnowski said. “In the case of Texas and other parts of the south-central U.S., it has been a dome of high pressure at most levels of the atmosphere that has persisted all summer.”
The high pressure dome hasn’t wavered or moved far from Texas this summer, meaning it’s been acting as a giant roadblock that prevents storms and fronts from moving in with any beneficial rain, Sosnowski said.
Though Sosnowski said the heat dome will be “tested” during the second half of this month — meaning moisture from a tropical system could move in from the Gulf of Mexico — it’s likely to be a long process, with the heat dome and resulting heat and drought conditions persisting through much of week three of August. Texas is forecast to receive little precipitation, and temperatures are expected to be slightly above historical average in the next couple of weeks.
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