Carroll County cattle ranchers hit hard by drought

Georgia's drought is devastating beef producers

CARROLL COUNTY, Ga. — As the severe and extreme drought worsens across north Georgia, we’re seeing the direct impact it’s having on cattle ranching in West Georgia.

Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist Katie Walls toured Southern Cross Ranch in Bowdon with seventh-generation rancher George Chambers.

His nearly dirt fields would normally have 10-inch-tall grass during this time in September.

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“I won’t know until we get some sustained rain and get the water table back up whether or not those roots are completely dead or whether or not they’ll regenerate, or am I going to have to come back in and replant this?”

Carroll County is one of the state’s top-five beef producers, according to Richard Littleton with the UGA Extension Office in Carrollton.

Littleton told Walls the cattle and beef industry in Carroll County is worth $57.6 million, but ranchers are having a tough time with the summer drought that is forecast to continue into the fall and winter. %

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Many ranchers have been forced to incorporate hay into their animals’ diets months earlier than normal. Chambers says another punch is that his hay yield is down because of the drought.

“I got about two-thirds of what I normally would on the first cutting, and the second cutting never came," he said.

With many farmers in the same state, he expects the price of hay to climb as we head into the fall and winter.

Chambers monitors his cows’ health closely, especially those that might be pregnant.

“The cow has to maintain a certain level of nutrition to keep that fetus alive, so I’m looking for heat stress and I’m looking for body condition. If it stays too hot too long, then they start aborting," he said.

One of his fresh-water springs stopped running three weeks ago. To keep his herd hydrated, he’s working with the county to extend its water line another 1,200 feet.

“I’ve got to pay to have that water run, plus have a meter put in, so the total investment in that will be about $4,000.  But the alternative is to move cows, but where are you going to move them to?" Chambers said.

The lack of food and water is forcing some local cattle ranchers to sell part of their herd.

For Chambers, that’s not an option yet.

“You plan for it the best you can, and you don’t take anything for granted. I look at it like this, you’re never beat until you quit," he said.