WICHITA FALLS, Texas -- Gene Jordan waited in line more than an hour and a half to drop off 20 head of cattle to sell at Wednesday's auction at Wichita Livestock Sales. That's the longest he has waited in a lifetime of ranching.
He had to wait because so many fellow cattlemen were lined up trying to get rid of substantial portions of their herds. With the lingering drought, they no longer can feed them and keep them watered.
"They don't have anything else to eat," Jordan said.
Sitting in line in his pickup on an afternoon when the temperature in Wichita Falls reached 104 degrees, Jordan wiped sweat from his face.
Wichita Falls has exceeded 100 degrees on 39 of the past 40 days, with a string of 100-plus degree days before that. By this date in a normal year, Wichita Falls would have received about 16 inches of rain. This year it has been just over 3 inches. Forecasters are not optimistic about substantial rain before September.
The few thunderstorms that have come often have left lightning-ignited wildfires along their paths.
"We're done. Everybody is just trying to salvage what they can," Coker said.
Wichita County Extension agent Fred Hall said he has talked to old-timers who remember the severe droughts of 1956 and 1980. They recall those droughts started later in the year and there was residual moisture in the ground to help forage.
"There's simply no moisture bank this year," Hall said.
Wichita Livestock Sales owner Billy Easter said heat and lack of rain have taken their toll.
"We're seeing a lot of cows come in that people wouldn't normally sell," he said.
Joe Parker, a rancher, banker and president of the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association, said the heat and lack of rain has created a dual problem: "We have a shortage of water and a shortage of grass."
Stock tanks in the region are drying up and some ranchers are resorting to having water trucked in. With no forage, cattlemen are turning to hay for feed, but the drought has ruined the region's hay crop. So ranchers must have it trucked in from the north, paying $65 to $70 for a round bale.
Parker said in a typical drought, cattle raisers usually would sell older or less productive livestock to take pressure off pastures and stock tanks. "Now, they're even selling their good producers," he said.
Those ranchers who stay in the business eventually will have to replace the cattle they're selling during the drought, Parker said. The replacement livestock likely will be more expensive and harder to find.
Hall said he's concerned some of the herds being sold off will never be replaced.
"It could put some people out of business," Parker said. But, "if we can get some rain, we can heal."