Oklahoma drought brings record number of cattle to auction

Cattle.

BOB MOON: Today, as they do every Friday, cattlemen across Oklahoma bring their animals to auction. This year, though, a nearly year long drought in Oklahoma is forcing a record number of animals onto the auction block.

From KOSU in Oklahoma City, Michael Cross reports.


Michael Cross: The sun rises over a sea of cattle at the Elk City Livestock Auction. More than 4,000 animals await the public sale, which will take nearly 24 hours to complete.

Charles Hickey is the owner of the Elk City Sale Barn. He's auctioning off more cattle than ever before. The drought has caused the price of hay to spike and many ranchers can't afford to maintain large herds.

Charles Hickey: They can save a little money and put something together maybe for down the road. The sad thing is there's a lot of these guys here -- that's older guys -- that aren't going to be back. Eighty-year-old guy may sell his herd, and he won't own another cow probably.

There is some good news though. The price of cattle has never been higher during a drought.

Scott Dewald is the executive vice president of the Cattlemen's Association. He credits several different reasons for the higher price. First off, southeastern states like Georgia, Mississippi and Florida are coming out of a severe drought with the lowest population of livestock since 1952. Many ranchers there are trying to replenish their herds. There's also been a 27 percent increase in beef exports, especially to Asian markets like China and Japan.

Scott Dewald: Probably the big driver is the value of the U.S. dollar. When the value of the U.S. dollar is low, it's cheaper for them to buy our product than maybe from Australia or somewhere else. So the value of the dollar plays a huge role in that.

Western Oklahoma rancher Will Street is participating in his third auction this year. He's shrinking his herd to about 25 from an average of about 70. He says for now he's going to take what he can and try to survive with the young heifers he still has in stock.

Will Street: It'll be a while before you can get a calf from them, but it looks like the drought's going to hang on for a while.

Climatologists say the drought might not come to an end until fall, unless there's a perfectly positioned tropical storm to bring much needed rain.

In Oklahoma City, I'm Michael Cross for Marketplace.

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