MULHALL — The toes of John Pfeiffer's boots kicked up a little dust as he walked along the powder-dry, well-worn cow path.
While that might not necessarily be uncommon, the path's location is alarming.
It's near the bottom of a pond that is about 12 feet deep when full, he said.
Pfeiffer has about 20 ponds at Pfeiffer Angus Farms in northern Logan County. Six of those are totally dry or are too low to use for watering cattle.
“The others are low and getting lower by the day,” said Pfeiffer, 59. “What has really been strange about the drought this time is normally on pond water, if you make it to the middle of September and you've got pretty decent water, they don't go down any more.
“However, we've had so much wind and warm days that'll you'll come out here a lot of times, and you can see where the pond's actually sunk down like three or four more inches.”
Pfeiffer's area is experiencing an extreme drought. His area is among the 90.50 percent of Oklahoma in an extreme to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday. That is up from 71.86 percent in those categories in last week's report.
Pfeiffer is only three miles south of an area that is among the 34.46 percent of Oklahoma that is in the exceptional drought classification, the worst category.
Financially, things are pretty tight for Pfeiffer and many others. Even with some profits, they have faced higher input costs, he said.
However, Pfeiffer has kept a smile on his face and remains optimistic.
“Are we going to survive?” Pfeiffer said of his farm. “Yes, we're going to survive because we've been here long enough that we can move some things around and do without some things and make it work. It's not always the most fun time, but that's part of life.
“There's no other place I'd rather be. This is all I've wanted to do my whole life.”
Decisions to make
There have been better days, not so long ago, Pfeiffer said. In April and May, the pond he walked through was full. Now it's dry, except for a little pool that's maybe a foot deep.
Even the wheat pasture on the hill, planted around Labor Day, got off to a good start. But instead of a nice green blanket, it's got the look of a somewhat threadbare carpet. He's turned cattle on it to get what grazing he can while the wheat lasts. There are fields, such as one he planted in early October, where the wheat looks good. He planted it later with the intention of keeping cattle off it and harvesting the wheat for grain. But he has decided to put cattle on it awhile.
The current drought really started in the fall of 2010 and has had more on than off moments since.
“We were pretty fortunate that we'd rented some extra ground a year ago,” Pfeiffer said. “And so we've kind of moved (cattle) around and we've been able to buy enough hay to keep them together. We've made a conscious decision that we're getting ready to buy grain to feed a set of heifers that we really don't want to lose. What it's really going to do is just wipe out all of the profit. But to lose them would be like a 10-year setback.”
Besides prayer, something that helps Pfeiffer the most are the words of his late grandfather, also named John Pfeiffer, who went through droughts in the 1930s and 1950s.
His grandfather said, “We're a day closer today to the rain than we were yesterday.”“He's right,” his grandson said. “That's what you have to hang on to, that you're a day closer than you were. It's always rained in this country before, and it will again. If you're going to stay in agriculture, you've got to be optimistic to make those things work.”