10/06/2011 05:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2011

Texas Drought Makes Search for Hay Difficult, Expensive

Rodney Wortham, a 45-year-old engineer, has raised and tended to cattle for 18 years on his farm in Cleburne.

Wortham, a husband and father of four daughters, has always dreamt of living and raising a family on a farm and owning his own herd.

However, as the worst drought in Texas continues to drag on, Wortham said holding on to his dream life is possibly the worst financial mistake he could've made.

"I should've sold everything," he said. "Trying to keep the herd fed is costing me a lot. If I could go back, I would've sold everything before it got bad. It's really putting me in a hole."

This year's drought has made hay for cattle relatively scarce and expensive. Last year a farmer could've bought a bale of hay for $35 to $45. This year the prices have almost tripled.

Wortham's farm is a perfect picture of the drought's landscaping effects.

The ground on his 10 acres of land is noticeably dry, cracked and bare -- uncommon for this time of year. The watering hole, which is fed by a natural underground spring, is 10 feet lower and shallow.

"Just look at it," he said looking out over his land. "The ground is all burned up. This couldn't have come at a worse time. I have two daughters in college and another one getting ready to go. Gas prices are going up and this year it's very frustrating."

Cattle, normally seen grazing along the ground, stretch toward low-hanging branches for leaves -- the only visible green foliage they'll eat.

"We are in an extreme drought throughout most of the county," said Clint Perkins, an AgriLife Extension agent. "Pastures and hay meadows are in bad condition. Feed prices for cattle producers are on the increase and they are talking about a serious cull of herd size if rainfall does not come."

The rising hay prices are forcing farmers to downsize their herds to more manageable levels.

The beating sun coupled with the drought has forced Wortham to cut his herd from 22 to 11.

"I can't imagine what people with larger herds are doing because right now it's bad and it doesn't look like it's getting any better," he said. "I've had several neighbors who sold out because it wasn't worth it."

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