California ranchers weigh options as dry spell lingers
by Ching Lee

December 4, 2013 7:31am
Comment Print Email

•  For now, ranchers will have to find other forage sources

•  “People can quickly feed themselves into a negative cash flow with today's hay prices”

After a lack of precipitation last spring deteriorated California pastures, cattle ranchers looked forward to a healthy rainy season this fall to start grasses growing again. But Mother Nature's scant offerings so far have not brought the relief they had hoped.

The state did receive some moisture late last month to help fill stock ponds and start seasonal streams flowing, says Glenn Nader, a University of California Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties. But in terms of growing feed, he says the rain came a little late.

"Things may germinate, but they'll just sit there," he says. "There's not going to be any rapid growth until March — unless we get an unusually warm December."

Because the springtime was so dry, ranchers who move their cattle to summer pastures did not have much dry feed for their animals to come home to this fall. And where they do have dry feed, stock water has been very limited, and hauling water can be cost-prohibitive, Mr. Nader notes.

"Many of them were hoping they'd get an early germination and have green feed to go into the winter with, and that just didn't occur," he says.

The state will still need successive rains this winter and enough ground moisture to support decent growth next year, Mr. Nader adds.

For now, ranchers will have to find other forage sources, including dry feed and supplementing with hay, he says, noting that less hay production this year due to drought has led to tight supplies and high prices.

"People can quickly feed themselves into a negative cash flow with today's hay prices," he says. "That's why a lot of people are looking at alternative dry matter sources such as corn stover, rice straw and other things, to try and cheapen up those costs."

Andy Domenigoni, who runs cattle on dryland pasture in Riverside and Tulare counties, says in addition to feeding hay since September, he buys culled oranges, lemons, avocados and other vegetable and fruit byproducts from a local packinghouse to supplement until range conditions improve.

He says he weaned his calves early this year and thinned about 25 percent of his cows when he saw how low he was getting on feed. He noted he had already culled about 15 percent of his herd last year and sold all of his heifers the last two years, so he has no replacements.

The aggressive herd liquidations across the nation in recent years due to drought have kept the cattle market strong for producers, Mr. Domenigoni says, and it will take some time before U.S. cattle ranchers can begin to fully rebuild after years of contraction.

"When cattle numbers are short, the prices stay up, and those who can afford to stay in the business will make some money," he says.

San Joaquin County cattle rancher Rich Rice says high cattle prices have been good for those who have cattle to sell, but if producers have to sell their cows due to lack of feed, then they won't have many to sell the following year.

"If you're selling the cows, you're selling the factory, because they make a calf to sell every year," he says. "Sure, she's going to bring pretty good money, but that's not really what you want to do."

Because he runs his cattle on rented ground — both dryland and irrigated pasture — that land will cost him money even if he cannot turn cattle out on it. For the moment, he says he's been able to move his cattle to various properties to stretch the feed, but he's had to send some of his yearlings to feedlots. And while he hasn't reduced his numbers yet, he says with hay prices getting higher, it will not be feasible for larger operations like his to obtain enough hay and labor to feed all his cattle.

For Nevada County rancher Jim Gates, who raises grassfed cattle on irrigated pasture, dry weather has increased his production costs considerably because he has to keep his animals on range much longer and must buy more hay than usual.

He notes the Nevada Irrigation District shut off its water on Oct. 15, so he now depends totally on rainfall to grow his pasture. He says his region received about two inches of rain last month, enough to germinate grasses in some areas of the pasture — but north winds immediately dried them out.

"We're going to need some more rain real quick, because it's as dry as it's ever been," he says.

Santa Cruz County rancher John Pisturino says after the state's last drought several years ago, he began expanding his herd, but he may now have to reduce his numbers again if the season does not improve. He says he's been supplementing with hay since September and has enough to see him through January or February, at which time he hopes grasses will be long enough to support his cattle.

"We'll see how the spring goes. It's not panic mode until after this rainy season," he says.

Denis Lewis, who raises purebred Angus bulls in San Joaquin County, says even though his cattle are on irrigated pasture, he has stopped irrigating because the cooler temperatures in recent weeks have not been conducive to growing grass. That means he has had to increase his hay purchases by about 30 percent, while reducing his herd by about 10 percent. He says he's concerned about how the drought will affect the state's dryland hay production.

"Hay growers are banking on the rain to make it grow, and if we don't get any rain for two or three months, then what has germinated will die," he says.

Siskiyou County rancher Leonard Gorden says not only is the drought affecting cattle producers — some of whom will go out of business or reduce their numbers so severely that ranching will no longer be a business but a hobby — but he says he's concerned about the long-term effect it will have on the entire U.S. beef sector.

"Eventually, if cattle numbers get too low and the price of beef continues to get higher because of that, I think our consumers will try to go to alternative protein sources," he says.

(About the author: Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert, a publication of the California Farm Bureau Federation, from which this article is republished.)

Comment Print Email

  • How to compete against Wal-Mart
  • Stockton mom turns a need into a business
  • The entrepreneur is in
  • Writing her own success story
  • Growing a small business the family way
  • The future pencils positive for this company
  • Niche marketing -- Italian style
  • Sipping success with niche marketing
  • Roasting a business out of his passion
  • Success as an independent consultant takes more than expertise
  • Avoiding the traps of employee law violations
  • Cracking the voice-over market
  • The American Dream realized, one package at a time
  • Female winemaker plunges into business
  • A new take on nurse education
  • Family sees moving business success
  • STEM thrives in pockets of education innovation
  • STEM goes solar in Stockton
  • Quick! There’s a robot in my pool
  • Retiring seniors can mean new business
  • Predawn biotech class trains next generation of science workers
  • Staying ahead of the competition the old fashioned way
  • Central Valley sees mismatch between high-tech jobs and job seekers
  • STEM starts young
  • Get ready – the future is here now
  • STEM Education: Growing the Valley's Future
  • They’re low power in wattage only, not ideas
  • Thinking success spawns Successful Thinkers
  • Small business success can mean finding the right niche
  • This franchise has real muscle behind it
  • Getting the scoop on small business success
  • Reshoring could rebuild America's manufacturing
  • Marketing that’s deliberately anchored to the past
  • Guitar artist plays his way to success
  • Paralysis no handicap for this entrepreneur
  • Boost sales with better communication
  • Making sandwiches sexy with a franchise
  • Going solar without spending a lot of money
  • They’re cute and cuddly. But are they a business?
  • Opportunity sails forth in the Delta
  • How bad etiquette on the job could kill your career
  • Growing their way out of hunger and poverty
  • Finding small business success from floor to ceiling
  • Why he’s public enemy #1 – for gophers
  • Running a home-based business successfully
  • Your boss needs a vacation – really
  • Couple makes transition from big corporations to small business
  • Carving a small business niche with a better idea
  • Calm is the goal of computer service and education franchisor
  • Developer squeezing new life into downtown with juice franchise
  • Signs of a recovering economy
  • How to keep a family business in the family
  • Ford dealership expands despite the Great Recession
  • Utility Telephone connects with customer service
  • Crowdfunding basics
  • The roar from crowdfunding is getting louder
  • California water wars’ bulldog
  • Water wars heat up in California
  • Helping businesses grow with a stronger STEM
  • How to retain your best employees
  • Small business runs success up the pole
  • Winery expands in Lodi
  • Lodi wineries tapping into growing Chinese market
  • Has the jobs picture brightened for the Valley for 2012?
  • The right education will be needed for 21st Century jobs
  • Where new jobs for San Joaquin will come from
  • Developing jobs for San Joaquin – Part 2
  • Developing jobs for San Joaquin
  • Fruits of his labor
  • Helping grow food security in the Valley of plenty
  • Doing a business turnaround despite the recession
  • Keeping customers loyal helps build her business
  • Expo exposes businesses to utility contracting ideas
  • Drink mix maker taps expertise to blend success
  • Entrepreneur finds success in a basket
  • Tips for catching resume fraud
  • There’s no checking out for this small business owner
  • Entrepreneurs take Valley sports play-by-play to the world
  • Starting a winery from scratch
  • Job hunting tips for the long-term unemployed
  • In the Central Valley, opera isn’t always the Grand Ole Opry
  • Branding ideas for small businesses
  • The ump’s not blind, but the players are
  • Finding success by tapping your brain in a new way - Part Two
  • Finding success by tapping your brain in a new way
  • Machines talking to machines is the future
  • Getting involved in the fight against AIDS
  • Franchised divorce says it’s a better way
  • Small business owner is brewing a success story
  • To beat the Great Recession, they’ve expanded
  • Taking a swing at strokes
  • Alert your taste buds – here comes Taste of San Joaquin
  • This franchise has real muscle behind it
  • Passion for his city drives him
  • Vicente Fox speaks out on U.S.-Mexico relations
  • Give your support staff recognition and reap top performance
  • Central Valley baker gets top honors for Royal Wedding pie
  • Asparagus Festival ends on high note
  • Stockton close to annual ‘tipping’ point
  • Framing small business success
  • Small business sees Affordable Care Act helping its bottom line
  • What you eat – and when – helps local restaurants
  • Coping with the aftermath of foreclosure
  • How to raise charming children
  • Central Valley grad school goes all-iPads
  • Solution to Delta water wars voiced
  • Making sure your personal bottom line is covered
  • Small California winemaker is all family
  • Small winery relies on family and innovation to compete
  • Central Valley company says it has a better way to store solar power
  • What’s wrong -- and right -- about local TV news
  • What planning means to small business success
  • Making the leap to small business
  • Out of work at middle age? Experts offer advice
  • Small business marketing, one article at a time
  • Congress on your corner as it’s supposed to be
  • Central Valley city’s heritage rediscovered
  • Central Valley school is building students’ foundations
  • Job tips from the expert
  • Long-term jobless worker re-invents himself
  • Building a new power plant means jobs for Central Valley
  • Sacramento reaches for the stars with new science center
  • Lodi Chamber opens China’s doors to small business
  • Writing books for fun – and sometimes profit
  • Black Friday shopping? How to protect yourself from scams
  • California winemakers can find added rewards overseas
  • Wine makers tap overseas markets from Lodi
  • A new revenue stream for Central Valley small businesses
  • Food bank seeks more business support
  • Tips for finding a job in the Great Recession
  • State may solve some of its prison woes with new Stockton facility
  • A solution to underwater mortgages
  • Should public libraries be managed by private firms?
  • Central Valley moves ahead with critical water project
  • Dee Dee Myers and the increasing impact of women on small business
  • How women are growing their small businesses
  • A market with a mission
  • Retailer 'paints' solutions to cash flow challenge
  • An answer for the unemployed – return to school
  • A ‘golden’ small business success story
  • Central Valley winegrapes blessed
  • Rubbing out the recession with a franchise
  • Surviving the recession as a small business
  • It’s personal, union says of Stockton fire cuts
  • How old it too old to start a new business?
  • They've found the recipe for small business success
  • MBA students help revive Central Valley farmers market
  • Classic wooden yachts anchor in Stockton for weekend
  • Foreclosures, short sales – a bank president comments
  • The strength of family helps this small business compete
  • Festival spears success in Central Valley
  • Social media helps keep family business prospering
  • Central Valley students get training in ‘green’ futures
  • Knives readied as Valley cities slash services
  • Central Valley jobless picture still grim
  • Delta residents told to ready for water war
  • Opportunities outlined for Central Valley small businesses
  • Rewiring your brain for success
  • Central Valley no longer ‘shell shocked’ by recession
  • To fix California’s government, look to London
  • Taking your sales pitch to the next level