Thirsty cattle require lots of water, a commodity long since gone from many South Texas ranches.

“For ranchers without windmills or wells, there’s the cost of hauling water to these ranches where ponds have long ago dried up. Some ranchers have been hauling water to their ranches for two or three years. A lactating cow consumes about 20 gallons of water per day, so with 30 head, you’re talking about a lot of water daily. ”

Ranchers use all sorts of make-shift and customized tanks and trailers to haul untreated Rio Grande water from municipal water treatment plants to their ranches behind pickup trucks burning $4 per gallon diesel fuel. Cost of the water is relatively cheap, at about $10 for 500 gallons, but the trips are almost non-stop, Montemayor said.

“Once a drought starts drying up the natural resources of a ranch, expenses and efforts increase tremendously. Equipment gets more use, which means added repairs and maintenance; the list just goes on and on.”

Ranchers have also been buying hay, available nearby in the lower counties of the Rio Grande Valley where fields have been irrigated. But that won’t last long either, he said.

“A round bale of hay is going for about $100, but as water districts start cutting back on the irrigation water that hay growers have had, hay will become more scarce and more expensive.”

Montemayor said a South Texas way of life going back more than 250 years is very much at risk.

“Our ranchers are not youngsters,” he said. “The expense and effort they have to put in is taking a terrible toll. With little or no rain since Hurricane Alex in 2009, and none in the forecast, we could be looking at the end of an era here. Ranchers, like farmers, are very optimistic, but how long can they hold out?”

 

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