The severe drought helped shrink the nation's cattle herd to its smallest size in six decades, according to a report released Friday from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and that diminished herd has a big impact across the southwest.
The report shows the United States inventory of cattle and calves was down 2 percent compared to a year ago.
The agency says this is the lowest January cattle inventory since 1952. It does two counts per year, in January and July. The January report had been anxiously awaited because it shows the impact of the drought as it spread across the nation last summer and provides a state-by-state breakdown documenting the shift of animals north.
Texas saw its herd shrink by 5 percent. It is the country's largest cattle-producing state. Herd sizes across the Southwest were down, as animals were moved north to more lush states such as Montana and the Dakotas.
New Mexico numbers were down for the third year in a row. Again, from the Associated Press:
"It's trite, but it is the perfect storm," said Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association. "We have no rain, there's no feed readily available, what is available costs too much and the cost of transportation has increased. We're just in a bad place."
This is something rancher Mike Corn of Roswell, N.M., knows well. Monica Ortiz Uribe spoke to him in August:
Corn is almost at the point where he can no longer afford to keep his animals. If no rain falls in the next week he'll have to sell them. All of them.
"Do you have a pet cat or a pet dog?" Corn asked. "Do you have anything that you're attached to and you don't want to get rid of? I've never had to make this kind of a decision. It's like pulling my heart out."
Is relief in sight for 2013? It doesn't look likely, according to reporting from Harvest Public Media:
“Unfortunately (the drought is) not over and we’re definitely starting 2013 in a different status than what we entered 2012,” said Michael Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center based at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
2012 started with about 28 percent of the mainland U.S. in drought. At that time the worst of it was in Texas and the southern plains. 2013 starts with 62 percent of the lower U.S. in drought and the heart of it is centered on the great plains from the Dakotas down through the Texas panhandle, prime winter wheat country.