Cattle ranchers cashing in on record high beef prices

Ranchers cashing in on high beef prices

SANTA TERESA, New Mexico -- The price of that beef on the barbecue grill this summer has soared to a record high because the supply of cattle has fallen to its lowest point in more than 40 years.

"We're light numbers so we're always hunting for more cattle," said Jess Burner, a cattleman who was "receiving" 300 head for a Texas buyer at the Santa Teresa Livestock Crossing.

The crossing is the largest in the country and handles the highest volume of cattle from Mexico. After passing a USDA health inspection, cattle walk across the border and into corrals where buyers on the U.S. side are waiting while they are sorted.

These days far fewer cattle are crossing the border since herds in southwest and on both sides of the border were devastated by drought.

"You can't haul water, you just need a little blessing from God," said Burner.

Without rain many ranchers in recent years have been forced to sell most or in some cases their entire herd.

With the supply so low the price per animal has doubled. A calf at birth is worth $1,000 on the U.S. side if it survives and makes it to sale.

"Everything we suffered during the drought, we're finally earning back, little by little, said Jose Maria Loera Juarez, who crossed 300 head on one day that he sold to a Texas cattle company.

Loera, a veterinarian, began building a small herd by buying from ranchers who could not keep their cattle during the worst part of the drought.

At its low point, the price for Mexican cattle he said was about $75 a head. Now the same animal is worth at least $500 when sold at the border. Most of the cattle from Mexico is young and sent to feed lots in the U.S.

Ranchers on both sides of the border are getting good prices for their cattle but they have less to sell and the drought is not over.

Rebuilding herds will take time. "We need a few years to recover," said Burner.


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