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Drought forces record-setting cattle sale

Features Editor

July 20, 2000 10 PM

South Alabama Livestock, Inc. had the biggest day in its 11-year history yesterday when 2,053 head of cattle moved through the auction gates.

That number was more than twice as many that were auctioned on the same day last year.

Although the numbers are usually higher in July and August than at other times of the year, the number of cattle being auctioned this July is significantly higher because of the severe drought that has plagued South Alabama during the spring and summer months, said Ed Jones, principle owner of the livestock company.

"The calves are coming through a month or so earlier than usual and lighter in weight," Jones said. "The prices are still good because the West is getting plenty of rain and grain prices are down.

If they were in the same situation that we’re in, the prices would drop and then it would really be a bad situation for Alabama cattle farmers."

Even though the prices were good, the mood among the cattle farmers was rather somber, and for good reason.

"We don’t have much choice," said Billy Windham. "We’re selling because we have to, not because we want to. We’re out of hay and our water supplies are drying up and it’s getting worse every day.

I’ve been cattle farming for 25 years and this is the worst situation I’ve ever been in."

Windham owns a cattle farm across the county line in Barbour County and has nearly 700 calves and brood cows.

"I got 14 rolls of hay from the disaster program yesterday and it will last me about five days," he said. "I’ll be out of hay for two days before any more becomes available and I’ll just have to hope I get some of it, and the water supply is critical."

Windham said he is completely out of water for one of his pastures and Big Judy Creek, which usually provides water for the other pastures is dry.

"There are a few water supply holes standing but the creek has just quit running," he said. "I just don’t know what I can do except sell."

Windham brought 150 calves to the auction yesterday and he said, although they’ll bring a good price, he is sacrificing in weight.

"I figure I’m losing about $100 a calf because of the low weight," he said, "but still we’re blessed because the price is good. If it wasn’t, we’d be hurting a whole lot worse."

Windham said the calves are "pulling the cows to death" so he plans to sell another 250 calves next week if conditions don’t improve significantly and he doesn’t see much hope of that.

"I’ve planted grain sorghum for silage hay and it’s burning up, so it doesn’t look like there much hope for it," he said. "If we got a good rain,

we could get winter rye planted and that would be some help but that wouldn’t carry us through the winter. I just don’t know …"

Actually, what Windham knows is something he is having a hard time accepting.

If conditions don’t improve soon, he is faced with selling out.

"I’m going to give it 30 more days and then the only alternative is to sell it all," a tight-faced Windham said, adding that he doesn’t think the average man on the street realizes how critical the situation is for all farmers and agriculture-related businesses.

"I hear people talking and I know they don’t know how bad we’re all hurting," he said. "They go in the grocery store and pick up anything they need or want and they don’t know what a tough time we’re having. But, like I said, the price is still good. We have to be thankful for every blessing and we’re thankful for that. Now, if we could just be blessed with a good, long slow rain."