From the Ground Up: Rebuilding The Beef Herd By Retaining Heifers

Beef cattle numbers have been declining for the past few years, primarily due to scattered droughts across the country and very high calf prices.

However, we found one Brazos Valley rancher who has been able to maintain the size of his cow herd, even after coping with Texas’ worst drought ever in 2011.

David Anderson is a Texas A&M Agrilife Extension economist.

“In 2013, we sent or culled or slaughtered about the same number of cows as a percent of the cow herd that we did the year before. To rebuild a cow herd you’ve got to keep more cows and you’ve got to keep more heifers. We kept sending them to market, and quite honestly prices were attractive.”

Lee Denena is a local rancher that has bucked that national trend.

“If I need animals, if I need replacement heifers, to retain replacement heifers, I retain them even though they’re high value. I retained a hundred and twenty five in 2012, heifers of my own, because that’s what I needed to do. I’m in this business not for this year, not for next, but for on out into the future.”

Not only is Denena a cow/calf producer, he also runs a farming operation that grows commodities as well.

“Those two things really help each other. I was able to sustain, water wasn’t an issue for me, I do know what you mentioned about some guys, then again if you can’t, if you don’t have the water for the animals to drink, you’ve got to move them. We had the water via wells or river.” (

Cows are ranchers’ beef factories, and when pastures got thin, cows still had to eat.

“We were able to produce pretty low quality, excuse me, low priced forage off of the cultivated land. Some of the fodder we might would have preferred to turn back into the soil for soil benefit, but we went ahead and harvested it and put it to the cattle to make it through that tough year of eleven. We were able to hang on to most of our factories, and that’s my goal, to ride the highs and lows and maintain our operation as it’s intended to be.”