Chesterton Tribune

Drought forcing Indiana farmers to sell cattle

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SPRINGVILLE, Ind. (AP) Indiana's worst drought in decades is forcing some cattle farmers to sell off cows they can no longer afford to feed as pastures dry up and feed prices soar.

Southern Indiana cattle farmer Alan Armstrong sold off 120 beef cows last Saturday at the Springville Feeder Auction Association, a farmer-owned cooperative near Bedford. The auction house has been in business since the 1950s and while sales are held throughout the year, having one in August is rare.

Armstrong told The Herald-Times ( ) for a story published Thursday that his decision to sell was one of simple economics he had too many animals and not enough to feed them.

He said he's already feeding hay to his cows, something he usually does not start doing until November. But this year there's no grass in his pastures, and the cost of buying feed is twice what it usually is this time of year.

"When it gets like this, you've got to eliminate mouths to feed. We're in survival mode now," Armstrong said.

Armstrong, who is 62, started in the cattle business when he was 7 years old and his dad paid him 25 cents a week to feed the family's herd. He said he hasn't seen a year like this year's drought.

Jack Ryan of Ryan Brothers Livestock in northern Monroe County said his farm has sold about half of its cattle starting two weeks ago "when it started to get real bad." He said creeks have dried up, ponds have gone stagnant and the corn byproducts fed to livestock are double their normal price.

"We had them out to pasture, but it's down to nothing," he said.

Jerry Rusch, a Mitchell veterinarian and beef cattle specialist who heads up Springville's Feeder Auction Association, oversaw Saturday's sale of adult cows. He said the sale was the first held in late summer since 1988, another drought year.

Rusch said that during a normal year, the cows sold last weekend would have grazed in the field until November before being sold for slaughter. He's been busy in recent weeks doing pregnancy checks on cows on area farms to determine which ones farmers should keep.

"The ones that are not going to produce, you can ship to market," Rusch said. "This is a time when many farmers are shrinking the size of their herds, cutting back inventory."

He said beef prices may go down with the increased supply, as farmers cut their herds to meet the amount of hay available. But Rusch said consumers should expect higher prices for beef as the year progresses.




Posted 8/9/2012