The deepening drought is weighing on cow-calf producers in Southeastern Colorado as they prepare for the annual meeting of the Bent-Prowers Cattle and Horse Growers Association Saturday in La Junta, according to current president Nolan Davis.
Davis and his family farm near Lamar and run about 60 Angus cows.

“We used to have our annual meeting in March but we got snow so often that we moved it back to April,” he said. “We’re hoping that’ll keep it from getting snowed out again.” Then he paused. “If it snows, we’d take it,” he said, correcting himself. “If we don’t get some moisture fairly soon, we’ll have to start downsizing our herds.”

Last year there was snow on the ground when the group held its 148th convention, a milestone that marks it as one of the oldest livestock organizations in the country, but turnout was good. The frequent rains that followed during the spring and summer were a boon to Davis’ alfalfa production, the farm’s most important crop, but this year is setting up to be a different story.

“A lot of guys are worried about the grass and whether we’ll have to cut numbers,” he said. “The cow market’s pretty tough right now as far as older cows. We sold a few last week and I think we hit an uptick in it, but overall the market has been challenging.”

“I know a lot of guys don’t want to go through downsizing again because we just went through that a few years ago. A lot of guys want to hang on as long as they can. They are just now getting their herds built back up to where they need to be,” he added.

Many ranchers also bought heifers when prices were at their peak and if cows start going to town all at once it could further depress the market. Meanwhile, hay prices have been climbing steadily since January and supplies are getting tight, he added.

At the meeting Saturday, the area cattlemen’s group is hosting a panel on cow-calf profitability that will address some options producers can consider if they need to feed cows longer than usual before taking them to grass, Davis said.

The panel will consist of nutritionists and marketers, with the emphasis on positive steps cattle producers can take to reduce costs or merchandise their cattle more effectively, he added.

As irrigated crop producers, the silver lining for Davis and his family is that some commodity prices have rallied this spring as weather worries mount. “Alfalfa prices are good, and corn is trying to creep up. Four-dollar corn is a lot better than $3 corn,” he said. “Wheat’s kind of a struggle right now, but wheat has also tried to jump up a few times.”

“That’s the worst part — you don’t want to wish for something bad to happen to help you on the price, but it seems to be the only thing that ever does,” he said.