Say a prayer for Texas farmers
I had an opportunity to go Texas recently for a continuing education meeting. When I arrived at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to get my connecting flight to San Antonio, I got the impression that the people of Texas took a lot of pride in the fact that they are from Texas. Everywhere I looked, I saw either a Dallas Cowboys star or a Texas flag. Even in San Antonio you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting the Lone Star flag.
So I was wondering: What do the people of Texas have to be so proud of? Since I’m not from Texas, I don’t really know. Maybe their pride stems from the fact that Texas was once its own country or maybe just its sheer size. I do know that agriculture, like everything else in Texas, is big. Texas has more beef cows than any other state in the union. But why are they so proud of that?
During my stay in San Antonio, I met a lot of other veterinarians from all over the country and the same question came up with every meeting: “Where are you from?” My reply was always the same proud, emphatic, “Somerset County, Pennsylvania.” I’ve been told more than once that you can tell a Pennsylvania native by the way he or she tells you what county he or she is from. I’m kind of proud of that fact.
And not unlike the people of Texas, I’m quite proud of the fact that I’m a native of western Pennsylvania. And I’m not the only one. People from western Pennsylvania well up with pride whenever the subject of their native land comes up. And, really, what’s not to be proud of?
If there was an award for most state pride, though, I think the people of Texas should get it. They say, “It ain‘t braggin’ if it’s true,” and I guess they’ve got a point. Everything is bigger in Texas, even the numbers. There are 14 million head of cattle in Texas. That’s more cows than the population of 46 states.
But the people involved in Texas agriculture are honestly taking quite a beating right now. Texas is in the throes of a drought the likes of which have never been seen before in the history of the state. Crop failures were the rule this year, not the exception. Cattle herds are being liquidated as fast as they can get them to the slaughterhouse since there is no feed available.
It is estimated that the drought has cost the agriculture industry about $5 billion so far. And with the scarcity of feed comes higher feed cost for the ranchers that are still holding on. Grass hay is fetching about $230 per ton. That’s about four times what grass hay typically costs.
A ton of hay will feed a cow for about two months. Since the pastures have all but burnt up, hay is the only thing available for the cattle to eat. To put this in perspective, cows are selling for about $700 right now in Texas. The cost to feed a cow hay for six months is about $700. It’s no wonder there is a fire sale.
While Texas agriculture is bloodied and bruised right now, they’re still a proud bunch. Too proud to let this beat them, I suspect. In time, the ranchers and farmers will recover. In the meantime, if you think about it, say a prayer for the farmers and ranchers living through this drought. They are a proud bunch, but not too proud for divine intervention.
(Dr. Bill Croushore is a veterinarian with White Oak Veterinary Clinic in Berlin, and services farms in Somerset, Bedford, Westmoreland and Fayette counties. If you have a question for the veterinarian, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)