GRANDFIELD — Terral Tatum’s family has been raising cattle since his father bought his first cow in 1963.
But unless things change in a hurry, Tatum could be out of the cattle business by the end of the year.
Tatum, 47, and his father raise cattle and grow wheat near Grandfield, about 40 miles southwest of Lawton. Grandfield, like much of southwestern Oklahoma, is in the grip of a persistent drought.
According to a U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday, 39 percent of the state is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought — the monitor’s two most severe categories. Just over 79 percent of the state is experiencing some form of drought, the report shows.
Tatum is entering his fourth year of trying to raise cattle and grow wheat in drought conditions. He hopes there’s enough water in his ponds to last his cattle until June, he said, but unless the area sees substantial rain in the next few weeks, he doesn’t think his water supply will last longer than that.
“It will not last the summer,” he said. “It’s a bleak picture.”
As the ground has gotten drier, Tatum, like many other ranchers in the area, has begun culling cattle, or reducing the size of his herd. If conditions don’t improve, he’s worried he may have to sell off his herd outright.
Selling his cattle would put his livelihood in jeopardy, Tatum said. He, his wife and their two children live all year off of the money he brings in by selling calves. But without water to keep them alive, he could find himself forced out of the business.
“We think about it every day,” he said. “Do you want to water your cows, or do you want to take a bath and have water to drink yourself?”
State climatologist Gary McManus said much of western Oklahoma is in the same position. Dust storms have plagued the area over the past few weeks, he said, and wheat farmers have been hit especially hard.
“It’s really a Dust Bowl-type situation going on out there,” he said.
Although the drought is most severe in western Oklahoma, most of the state is experiencing conditions that are drier than usual, McManus said. Oklahoma County is experiencing moderate to severe drought, according to the drought monitor report.
Oklahoma City’s available water supply was at 58 percent on May 1, said Debbie Ragan, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City utilities department. City residents are under mandatory, permanent watering restrictions, and more severe restrictions would take effect if the available water level falls below 50 percent.
Although the lack of moisture creates a desperate situation for farmers, cooler temperatures have helped keep the problem from becoming worse, McManus said. But temperatures are expected to climb into the mid to upper 90s in parts of southwest Oklahoma early this week, and that heat will accelerate the drought’s impact, he said.
Oklahoma’s rainy season typically ends in mid June, so the rainfall the state receives over the next six weeks will determine what kind of summer it will see, McManus said.
In the meantime, McManus said, no part of Oklahoma has seen above-average rainfall since the beginning of the year.
“Really, it’s bad news all over,” he said.