This summer’s Texas wildfires, brought on by a crippling drought, have left farm animals across Texas without grass or hay to eat – and there is still no guaranteed sign of rain to bring relief to the drought-stricken farmers and animals. The drought and fires, which killed several crops, including hay, are now impacting the surviving livestock, even after the fires have been extinguished. A lack of rain in what state climate scientist John Nielson-Gammon have called the worst drought in Texas history has led to an decrease in hay supply and a decrease in Texas’ agricultural production. Many small farms begin to send their animals to feed in the pastures and harvest hay to store for the winter during the autumn season, but this year, hay is scarce and its price is increasing, driving small farms to desperation.
Farmers across Texas have reported driving long distances to pay a premium for hay bales, which are in short supply and high demand across the state, as hay prices have doubled or tripled in some areas since July of this year. Many farmers can’t afford the fuel to drive and pick up hay from farms that still have it, and others are unable to find hay in their areas at all. Farmers from other states, such as Wisconsin, have shipped hay to Texas to support the farmers, but farmers still need more hay. Without hay, small farms are being forced to make the difficult decision to sell their animals to farms with food, so that their animals don’t further risk starvation or death. Some farmers have already sold a significant portion of their flock, but are still struggling to feed the remaining animals. Some farmers, unable to sell, feed or transport their animals, are abandoning them to starve on dry land.
Texas farm animal rescue organizations are suffering as well. Farmers send their animals to the rescue operations for food, but even the non-profit rescues are in short supply of food and money due to the high cost and demand of hay. Agriculture, especially cultivating livestock, is central to Texas’ economy and without hay and grass to feed their animals, Texas will lose money and business on its small farms. The Texas AgriLife Extension Service has estimated that the state’s agricultural losses already amount to more than $5 billion, and that number will rise if the drought continues through the winter and spring seasons.
Texas residents are reaching out to Texas Governor Rick Perry and asking him to intervene and support the state’s economy by using state funds, as well as the Texas National Guard, to buy hay and bringing it to Texas. Other regions of the country have enough hay and some – like Wisconsin and Indiana farmers – are willing to ship it to Texas, but for most, the cost of driving hay to Texas is too high. The Texas Department of Agriculture has established a Hay Hotline to help farmers find available sources of hay, but the cost of transporting the hay from these sources is often too high.
Without hay or the resources to buy and obtain it, farmers risk having to close their businesses and lose their ranches. In addition, as adult animals begin to starve and die, the population of baby animals will be diminished come spring: if mature animals aren’t healthy enough to reproduce, farms will lose not only these animals, but their potential offspring as well.
Bob Williams of Ranch Hand Rescue, a nonprofit farm animal rescue program in Texas, has created a petition on Change.org to rally public support and ask Governor Perry to invest in Texas’ economy by providing relief to farmers who are in great need of food for their animals. Add your name to the petition and support Texas farmers and livestock.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/carlwwycoff/3795093739/