SILER CITY, N.C. — Mad cow disease was detected on the West Coast before Christmas. But the effects still are being felt in North Carolina.
North Carolina's cattle industry pulls in $200 million a year -- about 1 percent of the nation's cattle supply. Nevertheless, farmers consider themselves in livestock limbo.
Since mad cow disease hit the United States, cattle prices have dropped by about 15 cents a pound, which computes to about $80-$100 a head.
Most farmers operate on a narrow profit margin, anyway. Now it seems they are choosing to hold onto their cows rather than sell them.
"They don't want to give away the cattle," a farmer said Monday.
The uncertainty in the industry is perhaps most evident at Carolina Stockyards in Siler City, where, twice a week, farmers bring in cows from across the region for market.
On a typical auction day, this place would see between 1,000 and 1,200 head of cattle. Now, they are not even coming close to that -- there are dozens of empty holding pens at the stockyards.
Farmer Brian Causey said that in the days after mad cow was detected, people outnumbered cows at the auction yard.
"There was a lot of people just here watching," Causey said. "They wanted to know what was going to happen."
Buyers like Darrel Dickerson do not have much to chose from.
"Today they've got 350 head," Dickerson said Monday. "It's a big drop."
The effects of mad cow do not stop at the stockyards. They reach far into the community.
Most farmers tend to spend their money locally.
"When the market drops, everybody sufferes from the equipment dealers to the car dealers to the grocery stores," said Sam Gross, Chatham County agriculture extension agent.
Waiting for the market to settle may be like waiting for the cows to come home. But, farmers plan to ride it out. Many believe that, in the coming months, the pens will fill, and the cattle industry will be back on its feet again.
There was an encouraging bit of news Monday at the stockyards. Although the number of cows being sold at the auction was still down, prices were up.
Farmers hope that trend continues. Some even say the industry will be back on its feet in a few months.