A year-long drought has caused hay prices to rise to as much as $115 per 800-pound bale as of mid-October (compared to $60 during the same time in 2010), causing some Texas ranchers to sell off or abandon their cattle as they can no longer afford to maintain their herds.   

The drought, which has caused wildfires and cost Texas agriculture some $5.2 billion so far in damages, is the costliest on record, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Total hay production in Texas is expected to reach 5.9 million tons in 2011, roughly half of what the state produced in 2010.

Some farmers are getting hay from out-of-state or even moving their herds to other states, adding transportation costs, finder's fees and taxes to already high hay prices. “Hay to our livestock industry is equivalent to milk and bread to everyday families,” said Todd Staples, the state’s agriculture commissioner. “We’ve seen many producers sell out everything. Because there was no hay, no pasture. Many of them have vanished. Literally, gone up in dust.”

The Texas Agriculture Department has set up a hay hotline where ranchers, transporters and landowners from 42 states make connections to buy, sell or donate hay. The federal Farm Service Agency is also available to help farmers and ranchers purchase hay during droughts.