Recent rains lift pond levels, spirits for Oklahoma ranchers

A Logan County rancher provides one example of how crucial recent rains have been for those who received them.
BY BRYAN PAINTER bpainter@opubco.com Published: April 28, 2013

For a long time, the beads of sweat from rancher John Pfeiffer's brow well outnumbered the raindrops from the sky over Pfeiffer Angus Farms in northern Logan County.

Even when it was cold, Pfeiffer was nervous as he stared at powder dry ponds. Now, he's smiling, and laughing as he stands beside a 15-foot-deep pond that is full.

The 60-year-old's ranch is still included in the moderate drought area of the U.S. Drought Monitor, and 72 percent of Oklahoma continues to experience moderate to exceptional drought.

This is not a happily-ever-after situation. But for Pfeiffer and at least some ranchers with nearly full or full ponds that sat dry for months, it's a happy-for-now scenario.

“About 45 days ago we were still in extreme drought,” Pfeiffer said. “This pond was totally dry, there was a little bitty puddle of water in the center of it that didn't amount to anything. The cows had quit drinking it because it was so bad. We didn't have any grass, we were feeding everything that the cows were getting and it was a pretty bleak situation.

“It was one of the worst times in all the time that I have been in the cattle business.”

Even further back, in February, Pfeiffer's wife told him, “You're going to have to get some kind of plan together of what you're going to do with the cows.”

Eight of their 25 ponds were dry. They had a well that “we lived off of all last summer” for water for the cattle.

He told his wife he had a plan.

“I hope it rains,” he said.

She replied, “That is not a plan.”

“I said, ‘Well, it seems like the best one because I really don't know where we can find any grass because of the drought,'” he said. “And I really didn't want to buy any more hay. I said ‘We'll go until April 15 and then we'll try to figure out what we're going to have to do if it hasn't rained.'”

He said he's been putting this cow herd of registered Angus cattle together for about 35 years. He didn't want to have to send them through a sale ring if he could help it.

But it started to rain, and that included some precipitation that continued slowly for a few days, he said. Rains kept coming over time. Pfeiffer said they not only gained subsoil moisture, but runoff. Now, although not all of his ponds are full, he doesn't have any that are dry.



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