Horse hitched to fence

The History of Texas Droughts

Texas is a land of contradictions. Its size and geographical diversity make it a place where beauty abounds, but so do challenges. One of the most enduring and significant challenges faced by the Lone Star State is drought. From the days of early settlement to the present, droughts have been a constant adversary, influencing the region’s agricultural, economic, and even cultural landscape.

Currently, Central Texas is grappling with persistent drought conditions, amplified by the searing heat of consistent 100-degree temperatures. The situation has reached a critical stage for ranchers like Stephen Baxter and Weston McCoury, owners of the 1894 Baxter Ranch in Bend, TX. Their ranch, where they raise premium Angus-Wagyu cattle for their beef operation, lies near the Colorado River and Cherokee Creek. Under normal circumstances, this would provide ample water for their herd. However, due to the drought, even these water sources can’t provide the sustenance needed to keep the cattle healthy and happy.

Rancher facing cattle shute

The Past That Shaped Us

Texas has an extensive history of droughts, each leaving its mark on the state. One of the earliest recorded droughts dates back to the 1890s. According to records, the absence of rain led to devastating crop failures and initiated economic downturns. The 1950s brought another harsh drought period, referred to as the “Drought of Record,” that lasted nearly seven years and significantly impacted water resources, leading to the state’s formulation of comprehensive water planning.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, 2010-2015 was another intense drought. Water levels in lakes and reservoirs plummeted, triggering water restrictions and a dramatic increase in wildfires. Agriculture took a brutal hit, affecting the livelihoods of many.

Impact on Agriculture and Livelihood

The most immediate impact of drought falls on agriculture. For operations like the 1894 Baxter Ranch, drought conditions make it increasingly challenging to sustain livestock. Lack of water can lead to insufficient forage, and the soaring temperatures stress the animals. Ranchers then face the choice of buying supplementary feeds and additional water troughs, which are often expensive, or reducing the size of their herd.

wagyu cattle in colorado river


Adapting While We Pray for Rain

Despite the grim circumstances, Texans are known for their resilience and innovation and have consistently risen to the challenge of combatting drought. To supplement the land’s stock tanks, ranchers like Baxter and McCoury are also taking adaptive measures, such as incorporating rotational grazing methods to allow pastures to recover and adding additional troughs to fields to offset the dry areas where their leases – along Cherokee Creek and the Colorado River – typically flow freely. These strategies provide a temporary respite for the land and cattle while the family continues to pray for rain and wait for the creeks and rivers to replenish the area. 

Drought is an unfortunate but defining aspect of ranching in Texas. While it has shaped the state’s past, it also points toward the need for sustainable long-term solutions and allows ranchers to evolve and prepare their ranches for the future. The courage and ingenuity of ranchers like the Baxter family and others across the state ensures that even when faced with harsh conditions, Texans keep moving forward – even amid the scorching sun.

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