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Record Cattle Auctions in Western OK

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News.
July 20, 2011

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The drought is forcing a fire sale for western Oklahoma ranchers as a record number of cattle are going on auction in Elk City.

The Oklahoma Climatological Survey shows the area is nearly a foot below normal in rainfall just this year, but there’s some good news for the ones who are selling despite the drought.

The Friday morning sun rises over a sea of cattle at the Elk City Livestock Auction where more than 4,000 animals await the public sale.

Packed in among the herds are 20 animals which for now belong to Will Street.

This is Will’s third time to auction after reducing his stock to about 25 from his average of about 70.

He says he’s doing what he has to because of the lack of rain.

“It’s unreal kinda. It’s pretty sad, but we don’t have no choice. When you don’t have no choice you just gotta do the best you can.”

While it’s not easy to get rid of that many animals, there is good news in that the price of cattle has never been higher during a drought according to Scott Dewald, the Executive Vice President of Cattlemen’s Association.

“The difference in the past was calf prices were extremely low. You were adding insult to injury by having to take cattle to the sale barn prior to wanting to do that and they were bringing half of what you expected them to bring.”

Dewald credits several different reasons for the high price of cattle.

First off, southeastern states like Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida are coming out of a severe drought with the lowest population of livestock since 1952, and many ranchers there are trying to replenish their herds.

Secondly, there’s a 27% increase in exports especially in Asian markets like China and Japan.

“The other thing that’s probably the big driver is the value of the US dollar. When the value of the US 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.”

The owner of the Elk City Sale Barn, Charles Hickey, is auctioning off more cattle than ever before because of the drought.

He admits the high prices are helping cushion the blow for ranchers taking part in the massive sell-off.

“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. 80 year old guy who sells his herd, and he won’t own another cow probably.”

Not all Oklahoma ranchers are getting rid of their livestock.

John Zerby from Custer surveys the herd for sale and says he’s thinking of getting a trailer full despite the worst drought since the 1930s.

“Some of these days it’s got to rain. I got a place or two that I run a few old cows. I probably got a couple hundred cows. I may be should be selling instead of buying but I’m going to try to see what’s going on anyway.”

Back inside the auction, the number of buyers increases as the day moves along, and Will Street is happy to see the prices staying high.

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.

“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 so we’re trying to stay in business anyway with the younger ones.”

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

The final tally of cattle going through the auction came to 4,231.

The auction began at 8:00 Friday morning and didn’t end until Saturday morning at 7:30.

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