Mad cow disease is proving to be a grim start to the new year for America's ranchers. Here on the South Plains, it's a mad drought, not a mad cow that ranchers say will put them out of business.
Raising cattle is not only Norman Hahn's job. It's what he knows best. "I'm 72 and I've been ranching since I was 15-years-old," says Hahn. Hahn says he wouldn't be doing anything else, despite a suffering cattle market.
Since the mad cow discovery in Washington State, 30 countries have banned American beef imports. Five tons of beef were recalled in eight states, not including Texas. Cattle was trading at $92 per 100 pounds but since the mad cow scare, prices have plummeted to just $74 per 100 pounds. But Hahn says it's a five year drought, not mad cow disease that will put many ranchers out of business. "We will work our way out of this mad cow disease given time. It'll take 4 or 5 years to work our way out of the drought," says Hahn.
Without water, ranchers are forced to move their cattle from field to field to graze. And with no rain, limited food, and hundreds of cattle, what little food available is quickly eaten. "You haven't heard people complain so much about the drought because we haven't felt the real effects of it yet," says Hahn.
This year Hahn will spend thousands of dollars each month to lease pastures from other land owners, to feed his cattle. "We're leasing and feeding these cattle spending $30 a month on each cow to try to keep them through the drought," says Hahn.
It's an endless battle. As thirsty fields are eaten bare, the cycle starts all over again. In a few weeks, Hahn fears his cattle will have no place to go. And he'll be forced to sell his herds in a depressed market. "The drought is a long lasting thing and has a much more devastating effect than mad cow prices," says Hahn.
Hahn isn't the only rancher facing a tough year in this area. He says fellow ranchers from Jayton to New Mexico are also experiencing major effects from this lengthy drought.