By Jason Dearen, The Associated Press
Posted: 01/27/14, 11:41 AM PST |

In January, business at the 101 Livestock Market’s cattle auction on California’s Central Coast is usually slow. The busy season is normally in June or July, when ranchers have had time to fatten their animals for weeks on spring grasses.

This year, however, business is bustling, with packed pens of moaning cattle and cowboys standing on tip-toe to get a glance at their potential prizes.

Because of historically dry conditions, California’s soil moisture — a key ingredient for the forage that cattle graze on — is low throughout the state. With feed costs high and weeks of dry weather in the forecast, ranchers are already selling off parts of their herds as normally green grazing pastures have turned brown.

“We’re in the drought now, so a lot of these are going back to Texas,” said rancher and auction house co-owner Monty Avery, gesturing to a pen packed full of cows. “We usually sell about 100-150 animals per week. Now we’re seeing 800-1,000 per week, so the volume’s jumped up.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has formally proclaimed a drought in California, a move that codified what farmers and ranchers in the state had known for weeks. The U.S. Drought Monitor has said there are “extreme drought” conditions in central and northern California, where much of the state’s ranching is located.

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