JACKSON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Widespread drought is forcing ranchers around the country to take cattle to market earlier than usual.

The drought and the higher cost of feed is also impacting the size of the cows.

The pastures are dry, so there’s no grass for the cows to graze and hay is too expensive.

So ranchers and farmers are sending their undersized cows to market early. They’re also sending more of the heifers, meaning there will be less to give birth and regenerate the herds.

Experts are blaming a major drought for the drop in the nation’s cattle herds.

4th generation cattleman, Billy Bingham, has seen a lot over the years, but he said the uncertainty surrounding the future of the beef industry is a bit unsettling.

“That cuts down on the herds that in the United States so that makes the numbers less so then you are having less beef produced,” Bingham said. “You’re going to have a fluctuation of a lot of beef right now, especially in the hamburger market but next year there are not going to be as many calves and heifers that will go to the butcher plant for steaks and roast and stuff like that.”

Florida’s ranchers and farmers are not seeing drought conditions.

So why don’t they just raise more cattle to make up for other parts of the country? Bigham said it’s not that easy.

They are only allowed a certain amount of cows per acre, so increasing cattle production is not a solution.

“We will get our cow numbers up,” Bingham said. “That’s what is driving the market to go up right now is the cow numbers are down in the United States and when they start to creep back up people are going to start keeping replacement heifers and stuff go back up well the prices will go back down.”

He said generally they fluctuate over a five-year cycle, but they haven’t seen a good price in calves in 7 or 8 years.

“It does affect us, the price is started to creep up a little bit this week, the calves that are weighing in the 500-pound range, 600-pound range are up 3-5 percent higher everything trying to trickle up, we need it, because right now we are selling calves for the same thing we did last year,” Bingham said.

In the meantime, shoppers should prepare for possible higher prices and shortages of beef at their local grocery stores.

Bigham said those shortages and higher prices should arrive next year.