Stock show sees smaller herds in drought, so public will see beef prices rise



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Posted on January 18, 2013 at 7:42 PM

FORT WORTH -- The first thing you see when you walk into the longhorn barn at the Fort Worth Stock Show is a brindle steer named Paris, just under 1,800 pounds, with seven-and-a-half foot horns.

Every two weeks or so, he chews through a hay bale the size of a small car. As everyone knows, Paris food is not cheap.

"$140 a bale," said owner Jeff Hoffman.

That's what he paid last year for 30 bales from a seller in Florida. He said no one in North Texas had hay to sell. The price is about triple what it is when there's no drought.

"I had people begging to buy hay from me," said rancher Trigg Moore, petting a gentle longhorn, named Frenchy. "I wouldn't sell it, because I needed it for my own cattle."

Moore runs a small longhorn operation in Hico -- smaller than he wants.

"We've gone from one-hundred-plus head down to 35 head, just because of the drought," he said. "You can't afford to feed them, and you can't get food for them."

Until now, the drought has been pretty much a farm and ranch problem. However, if you eat beef, it's becoming your problem.

"We expect, in March, prices to start going up," Moore said. "And this summer, prices will be pretty high at the store." 

So many ranchers have been forced to sell so many cattle, the nation's herd has shrunk to 1950's levels.

It's especially devastating for the City of Plainview in the Texas panhandle. The Cargill Company announced this week it's closing the processing plant next month; 2,000 jobs. The area's largest employer. Nearly ten percent of Plainview's population.

"The reason we're idling it is because the cattle supply has been diminishing at an accelerating rate," said Cargill's Mike Martin.

This news surprises no one in the cattle barns at the stock show.

"There's been years at the Fort Worth Stock Show when we brought 20 head," Trigg Moore said. "This year, we brought six."

Around the corner from the cattle barn, shaved sirloin sizzles on a tire-sized griddle at the Texas Skillet food concession. Laura Houchin said she doesn't want to raise prices and lose business. But this day, she has a bigger beef with the thief who stole her pick up from the Lowe's on Eastchase as she bought supplies for the stock show.

It should be easy to spot -- a black Ford F-250 Harley Davidson edition, with a big Tequila Red's catering logo across the back window. A red pepper with hat and mustache.

Not exactly the "cowboy way" to start the stock show.