‘We’re having to get creative’

Livestock are shown at RiBear Cattle Company near Temple. The drought and related costs — such as high hay and feed bills — have the company running fewer cattle than normal.

Dry stock tanks, hay needs making ranching harder in 2022


A difficult year for ranching could get a lot harder in the months ahead.

Winter is on its way, and hay already is in short supply. Hay that is available is selling for higher than usual prices: The US Department of Agriculture’s latest hay report says a large round bale of good quality hay is going for about $150, plus hauling expenses.

“Hay is kind of a triple whammy right now,” said rancher Andrew Tiner of RiBear Cattle Company, located southeast of Temple. “Of course we are in the middle of a severe drought, plus record fertilizer prices and gas prices this summer have caused hay prices to skyrocket.”

Because of the drought, Central Texas ranchers such as Tiner are short on grazing land and are having to purchase hay earlier than anticipated. Ideally, supplemental feeding — including hay and feeds — is usually reserved for winter months.

“We’re having to supplement heavily — mostly with hay,” he said. “Feed prices are sky high as well.”

Summer heat and the lack of rain have dried up many stock ponds and left others in a dangerous condition.

“The tanks that still have water are down to the bottom, and they are very muddy and soupy,” Tiner said. “We really have to keep an eye on the cattle — they can get stuck in the mud and die.”

Tiner said that each pasture RiBear owns or leases has a stock tank for watering cattle. When a pond dries up, it takes the entire pasture out of production.

“We’re having to get creative,” he said. “If you have six pastures with six stock tanks, but only one pond has water, you can only use one of the six pastures for cattle. It forces you to cut down on the size of your operation.”

“We run a cattle company,” he said. “We buy and sell cattle all year long. We bring in cattle, group them and find them new homes.”

“In a typical year, we will run up to 500 cattle at a time,” Tiner said. “This year, the numbers are the lowest since we’ve been in business. We have about 300-350 head right now.”

In a good year, hay producers get multiple cuts during the growing season, meaning hay balers are in constant use. This year, however, many fields are averaging only two cuttings, and the first cutting produced about a third of a normal crop. Most of Texas received rain during August, and that boosted hay productivity. But, now it’s dry again and not much is growing.

According to the National Weather Service, the winter forecast indicates dry and warmer than normal conditions because of a La Nina weather pattern.

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