Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: Struggling with drouth
What’s left to say about this miserable drought? As much as I admire Elmer Kelton’s classic book, “The Time It Never Rained,” I don’t think it will ever be wet enough for me to take the chance on reading that book again. Kelton’s book describes the drouth in Texas in the 1950s. Except for the fact that back then they burned prickly pear for cattle to eat, it could have been written last week. In those days they had the same government programs that produced unintended consequences and confusion but nothing quite as scary as the Obama Administration.
We only had three water wells on the ranch when I was in college. The little reservoirs that we had scattered around the ranch were pretty dependable back then. My son has never seen most of the reservoirs half full. It makes one feel old to be able to remember when the creeks ran and water ran over the spillways. This spring I drilled three more water wells. A solar powered water well is about the only bright spot in this drought. No matter how many times I see it, it is truly amazing to see water lifted up 300 feet by sunshine.
I can’t help but feel that the rain left this country about the same time as most of the sheep departed. Nothing like a bunch of freshly shorn sheep to attract a down pour. All those cold wet rides bringing sheared sheep back to the sheds seem like memories from a different life. A life that once included slickers, boot overshoes and worried sheepmen. My dad talked about the dry summer of 1919 when a great many sheep from Wyoming were sent to Texas to find grass. When the sheep came back they brought scab mites with them. By the spring of 1920 every sheep outfit had to dip their sheep with nicotine sulphate. Dad said the dip smelled so bad the ewes couldn’t find their lambs. At least that’s one drought related problem that we aren’t likely to face again.
One of the biggest challenges to keeping my sanity in this weather is enduring the thoughtless things that town people say. They hope it doesn’t rain over the weekend or during Muffy’s soccer game. They ask you if you’re enjoying the “nice” weather when it’s hot and dry. Urban residents get to live blissfully unaware of the importance of precipitation. Outside of having a nice lawn and a place to water ski, water does not mean much to them. If they are aware of the drought at all, they declare it over with every little snow storm. Of all the disasters that agriculture is plagued with, drought is the only one that just has to be endured. You can dig out after a blizzard, you can fight a wildland fire, but a drought only ends when it rains.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News