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Drought conditions in Hudspeth County force ranchers to sell cattle

SIERRA BLANCA, Texas (KVIA) -- Ranchers in Hudspeth County say that while the Borderland has seen small relief from recent rains, this year’s lack of rainfall and extreme heat has been nothing short of brutal.

It’s been affecting infrastructure such as the power grid, and hampering crops. ABC-7 recently reported on the delayed harvest from the Mesilla Valley’s chile fields this year.

These extreme conditions are also hurting ranchers east of El Paso, forcing many to downsize their herds, and even sell their cattle.

Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West raises cattle on land outside of Sierra Blanca. He tells ABC-7 that he has fewer cows this year due to the drought.

"This place here, I’m only running about half of what I normally could as far as stocking it, and that’s how it is throughout the whole county," said Sheriff West as he gave ABC-7 a tour of a part of his ranch.

He says the price of alfalfa has gone up as well due to the drought and extreme heat. That makes it more expensive to feed the cattle.

"Right now feed is $400 a ton. In the past it was around 175-200 dollars a ton, but because of the drought, and not having enough water, it’s hard to raise a good amount of alfalfa, and even now the farmers are suffering," he added.

Hudspeth County Judge Joanna Mackenzie says due to the small people to land ratio, drought conditions have been inaccurately reported to the National Weather Service, which poses problems all of its own.

In a drought report released earlier this month, both El Paso and Culberson counties, which are directly west and east of Hudspeth county respectively, were both labelled as suffering from severe drought, while Hudspeth was only labelled as suffering from moderate drought.

County Judge Mackenzie explained to ABC-7 how this affects ranchers.

"When [ranchers] go back to insurance, insurance is saying ‘this map shows you are not in a drought, therefore you’re not going to be able to qualify for subsidized feeding,' and as a direct result of that, they have to go and sell their cattle," she said.

While Sheriff west said the cattle market is "good" right now, he said ranchers are lucky to break even on their cows.

Judge Mackenzie says if you live in Hudspeth County, the best way you can help with this situation is to report the rainfall on your property to the NOAA.

If you have a rain gauge, you can simply write down the amount collected each day, and she says you can report up to 3 months worth of back-collected data.

"One voice makes an absolute impact and can make the difference between our local ranchers being able to feed and maintain their herds, until, we hope, rains start to come back again," Judge Mackenzie added.

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Jason McNabb

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