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Oklahoma drought creates desperate situation for farmers, ranchers

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.
by Silas Allen Modified: May 4, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: May 4, 2014
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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?”

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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