Texas cattle ranchers are selling their herds, and some communities are running out of water, as a punishing drought in the state shows no sign of waning with the driest months still ahead.
“Things are very tough and they will stay tough until Mother Nature helps us and gets us a good rain,” says Pete Bonds, who raises cattle on his family ranch west of Fort Worth.
More than half the state is now categorized as in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report from the Department of Agriculture.
“The state as a whole had its driest March through May on record by a considerable margin,” state climatologist John Neilson-Gammon said.
Neilson-Gammon said the period dating back to October 2010 will probably also work out to be the driest eight-month period since precipitation records started being kept in the 1890s.
Nowhere is the impact of the drought being felt harder than in cattle country, where men in cowboy hats still ride the range as they have for more than a century.
Huge tracks of pasture and fields usually covered in verdant grass or flourishing crops in June are now brittle and bare, interspersed with clumps of dead brush.
“Because we’re not raising the amount of grass that we usually do, we’re having to destock these ranches,” Bonds said in an interview. “We are having to cut the numbers down and sell cows that we don’t want to. And since it is dry in a huge area, most of these cows are going to go to slaughter.”