Purchase photos

Drought forcing farmers to move cattle, water

5/14/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

McCRACKEN -- Zach Higgins took it all in stride, clambering out of his Dodge pickup, a sloshing pair of water-filled shuttle tanks weighing it down.

He opened a gate as cattle languished nearby.

It was a scene that's been repeated many times, the hauling of water to cattle struggling to survive on parched Ness County pastures.

This spring, there's little to cheer about in Ness County, where pastures offer little for cattle to eat or drink, and fields of wheat are turning brown in spots.

"At least four to five years," Higgins said of how long the drought has been gripping Ness County, as well as other parts of Kansas and the nation.

Ponds are dry, and Higgins said a well only a few steps away is all but dry, pumping a small trickle for just a few minutes before running out of water.

"I can spit faster to fill up a tank," he said.

Conditions are so poor, he said of the McCracken area, they've had to make arrangements elsewhere for approximately half the herd.

"We just took 40 of our pairs up to Nebraska to a feedlot," he said referring to cow-calf pairs. "We've run out of grass and feed."

They'll return to Nebraska later this summer to retrieve the cows and then in November to pick up the calves and sell them off.

"We're just taking them up and praying for rain," he said. "Some rain."

Sunday's bout of severe weather didn't offer any relief, dropping only 0.05 of an inch of rain. East of Arnold, hail 1.75 inches in diameter fell in the storm.

It was followed by brisk winds Monday and sharply colder temperatures, falling even lower Tuesday and this morning.

Frost even was reported in far western Kansas, but it's not yet known if there's any damage to the wheat.

Higgins said without rain, the pastures simply won't support normal stocking rates this year.

"We've got a cow about every 80 acres it seems like," he said.