Cattle Ranching, an Anchor Industry in Union County
The ranching and cattle industry in Union County has always been an economic anchor. However after the housing market collapse in 2008, and the general decline in the economy, Union County found itself in difficulty with respect to the four existing feedlots, all of which closed at one point due to management problems, the price of feed and other insurmountable ownership problems. This resulted in the loss of about 150 total jobs. Compound this with the drought, resulting in continued high cost of feeding existing herds and graphically (see below), we can see what happened to the cattle industry in Union County. Ranchers held out for as long as they could with supplemental feed, but when the price point of feeding crossed the price point of maximal sale value for cattle at the time, a massive unloading of cattle in Union County resulted in marked diminution in the herd count.
Two of the four feedlots have now re opened, but the surge of cattle into those feedlots has been less than robust, due to the downsizing of herd size. Compound this with unique New Mexico impediments to herd growth including taxes to the New Mexico Brand Board and the result is that cattle herd growth will be very slow indeed. In fact, the trend might be toward leasing cattle grazing land (now that we have had an abundant monsoon summer (2014) for short periods of time (2-6 months) instead of actually owning cattle and growing the herds. This industry is complicated with many independent and dependent variables, all of which make the cattle re surge in Union County difficult to predict. The result of diminishing tax values of the cattle herds has also hurt taxable income for the county and school districts. The rain has certainly helped with growth of the native Kiowa grasses, hardy robust high protein grazing sources, but the other extrinsic variables have resulted in a feeling that Union County must not rely solely on cattle and ranching for survival.
Diversification into manufacturing, renewable energy, home based broadband business, value added agriculture and of course, the commerce which accompanies the Ports to Plains Alliance, are all paramount industries tied to our local growth. The local 5 state Livestock auction house in Clayton NM is still very busy every Wednesday in the buying, selling and trading of cattle. It actually appears that the cattle industry is on the rise and slow resurgence of herd size is occurring. The following graphs from the Union County Assessor’s office paint an improving picture of ranching in Northeast New Mexico.