At the Tulia Livestock Auction, tension is in the air. "This is a big day for the cattle industry," says Charlie Sellers, President-Elect of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association.
Mad cow may be no where near the auction block, but today its effects will be felt. "The market is drastically different than it was December 23rd. We've probably lost $15 per hundred on feeder cattle and our fat cattle which is $100 per head so it's definitely taken money out of the cattleman's pockets," says Mark Hargrave, manager of the Tulia Livestock Auction.
Evidence of a depressed cattle market is seen everywhere. Sarcasm from idle workers on a slow day, empty cattle trailers, and ranchers apprehensive about selling their livestock. "No one wants to go first. They want to see what they're gonna bring before they make a commitment to bring them in and sell them," says Hargrave.
Normally the Tulia Livestock Auction sells 3,000 head of cattle each week, but today that number dropped to almost 750, but while struggling to survive, ranchers are optimistic. "The prices are off a bit today and we're gonna cheapen up our average a little today but it's not a train wreck, not a train wreck," says rancher, David Doshier.
Despite the decline in U.S. exports local ranchers say the market is on the upswing and the cattle industry should rebound soon. "Once the foreign countries realize the cow was from Canada, I think our exports will open back up for the U.S. to export some beef," says Sellers.
But for now the doors are closed to U.S. exports in some 30 countries. And cattle prices are about 25% lower than their record highs in 2003 keeping Texas, the king of the cattle industry, at a standstill. "When you take a 25% reduction in a multi-billion dollar industry in the Texas Panhandle especially it's devastating the smaller communities," says Sellers.
After two of the worst weeks in years for cattleman, "It's not the end of the world. It's just a long way from where we were before this happened," says Hargrave.
West Texas ranchers are trying to take the bull by the horns. Ranchers say it will take much more than a better market to help them this year. With the South Plains in a five year drought, ranchers say it is getting increasingly tougher to graze their cattle. Without rain many ranchers are forced to move their livestock from place to place and sometimes even lease land from other landowners to feed them. Forcing them to spend more money in a sluggish market.