Photo Essay - Texas Dust Bowl
Second Place: Issue Reporting Picture Story - 54th Pictures of the Year,1996, USA
Texas Dust Bowl
In Texas, famous for cowboys; huge ranches and the longhorn cows, cattle ranches are having problems with the worst and longest running drought since the famous dust- bowl in the 19301s. Those who lived through both say that the situation now is as bad if not worse. A drought has ranged in Texas for almost all of the 19901s, with only 10% of expected rain having fallen in the last 2 years. The ranches are not only faced with dust where there would normally be foot high grass but the cost of cattle feed has doubled and the market price of animals have halved.
Generations of ranchers are packing up and their life time of knowledge is being lost at knock down prices. Many borrowed money to buy cattle at $500 which are now only worth $200. The cattle are starving to death. With the option of either the slaughter house or starvation most ranchers have sold at least 30% of their herd; pregnant cows fill the auction houses and many 24 hour auctions have been held as ranchers sell out.
The drought is so wide spread that ranchers can no longer afford to ship cattle to better grassland. The only people who appear to be doing well are the auctioneers and the local Meat Packers (Slaughter houses) who are heading for a 20 year peak in activity.
Ranchers say they need a hurricane stating 3 they1d be happy to lose the local town for 2 inches of rain2 .
If there is no rain this winter the consequences are horrific not only for the cattle but for the townships and families who rely on the ranches for their living. But if the rains do come the land may be in such bad condition that the ground will be badly eroded and will take at least another 10 years of good conditions to recover. A few farmers have shipped cattle hundreds of miles away, - to Missouri and other states, - never to return. Others are diversifying into goats, chickens, new crops -anything that might survive. But most are sinking fast, selling at any price and just trying to carry on, hoping the rain
For some it is too late. A young family sit nervously at the back of the auction, seeing their last two calves sold for less than they paid for them 18 months ago, even though they now are twice the weight. They have lost their house and car and are staying with friends, having borrowed transport to get to the auction. Now they are moving to New Orleans with no plans or work - the father says he has lost everything. 3Things can only get better, can1t get any worse2.
Others burn spikes off prickly pear cactus - a thing rarely done in this area of Texas, at any time. The problem is that once the cattle get a taste for it , they eat the cactus untreated and the spikes rip there mouths to shreds. 3 But what else can a person with no more money do,2 a rancher says.
At a meeting of the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in Gonzalos on July 17th held to try and advise on how to survive the drought, it was generally recognised that things were not going to improve until 1998. Dr. J . Paschel (Extension Livestock Specialist, Corpus Christi, Texas) advised ranchers to set aside a 3sacrifice2 pasture to be irreparably over-grazed in an attempt to save the rest of their lands He added 3 that if cattle die in sight of a well travelled road ,to drag them off or bury them, and not to leave them for people to see and wonder about2.
In Houston less than 200 miles away many Texans have no idea that there is even a drought.
The problem is that there are too many damn nice days and it is killing off the most resistant of Texas symbols - the cowboy and the cattle. Now in order to have a ranch you need to have an oil well. Others can only pray that the rain comes before all the cattle die and they go bankrupt.