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Lingering drought still affecting cattle numbers

Reported by: Rebecca Rivers
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Updated: 4/03/2013 8:33 am

With moisture in the air, spirits are definitely raised quickly in the ag world. But ranch managers like TJ Roberts at the Kent County Spires Ranch know all too well the lasting effects of hot years with little or no rainfall. Roberts said that they've had to cut about 2/3 of their total cattle capacity. But he's still looking on the bright side.

"It's been pretty tough through the drought. We've had to move a lot of cattle to East Texas and we've got probably a third stock left here," Roberts said. "We've tried to take the pros and cons through the drought, we've been cleaning out tanks, putting in new water lines and troughs, and been doing some fencing."

And spring time brings with it new baby calves and herd gatherings. Ron Redford, who looks after the northern division of the ranch, said that after the spring works, bulls are turned out to start the calf crop for the next year.

"We just got done calving and we finished up branding and so now we're scattering bulls," Redford said. "And now we're going to prowl around those cows that calved late and maverick them calves and catch those calves out there and mark them and stuff."

"During the spring works, we usually drive everything to the pens and we still rope and drag everything to the fire. And our calves usually get one shot and a bovashield shot," Roberts said. "We usually ear mark the cattle with a cropped ear, and we brand them with an "S" and that's kind of our i.d. for the ranch is an "S" brand on the left rib. Our cattle are Angus cattle, this little set here behind me is some of our registered cattle."

Some of the bulls will even have to be hauled across the state where cattle are turned out because of the drought here. But Roberts and Redford are finding other ways to supplement the ranch income, largely through marketing their ranch horses.

"We just want a big using horse, something that can stand up to this kind of country, but yet still have cow sense," Redford said. "You can work off of him and enjoy your work."

"Income, it usually goes down because you've got more expenses going out to these lease countries instead of just on the ranch here, so we've tried to adjust that and start trying to sell more of these horses and get some income off of that," Roberts said. "And then we've even started trying to sell water, and that's even helped even more, too to a lot of these drilling rigs that are drilling around here."

And Redford said that it is taking more to keep his cows fit because grazing is becoming limited.

"The nutrition part, I've got to be out there feeding my cows, have my syrup put out, put some mineral blocks out," Redford said. "And then you're constantly going around fence, fixing fence, and around here water is a big deal, so you're always having to go around waters."

Roberts said that Spires Ranch does plan to rebuild their cattle herd once the rains come back. But for now, they'll just wait and see.

"We'll just wait and see how this year comes about," Roberts said. "If it goes to raining more here, we'll take our heifer calves off of these calves here in Kent County and Fisher, and New Mexico, or Nolan County, and we'll start rebuilding, bringing heifer calves back here, and then we'll take our heifers from the ranches in East Texas and start trying to bring them back."

Another big obstacle ranchers face in droughts is the threat of wildfires. Spires Ranch has built fire guards around their perimeter to be well prepared.

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