Low precipitation worries ranchers

William Thompson

Despite what some local residents might think, the recent snows in the Quay County area have had no appreciable effect in raising water levels, according to Pete Walden, Quay County Extension agent for New Mexico State University.

“We are in a severe drought,” said Walden. “It’s been going on for five years. The recent snow hasn’t had any effect at all. Conditions are expected to remain dry for at least the next several months.”

Local ranchers know first hand what Walden is talking about. James Vance, a Quay County cattle rancher, said he’s had to liquidate some of his stock to stay ahead of disaster.

“I’ve had to cut down by 25 percent,” said Vance. “If we don’t get some good rain this summer, the situation will be dire. I may have to wind up liquidating 60 per cent of my stock
Vance echoed Walden in saying that the recent snows haven’t helped.

“It wasn’t much snow, and it was a dry snow,” said Vance. “The canal that runs to my ranch from Conchas Dam is still dry. That canal used to recharge the underground water supply, but it’s doing nothing now.”

Vance, whose ranch is located halfway between Tucumcari and San Jon, said he’s had to give extra protein supplements to his cattle to keep them healthy. He’s also had to delay needed purchases for his ranch.

“When it’s this bad, you can’t buy new equipment. You have to keep the ranch running with the old equipment,” he said.

Joe Culbertson, of Culbertson Ranch, said his stock is down to less than half it’s normal amount.

“We’ve gone from about 1,300 cows down to about 500 cows,” said Culbertson about his cow/calf operation. “If we don’t get some more moisture, we’ll have to sell more cows.”

According to Richard Bull, of the state United States Department of Agriculture office, the area needs about 24 inches of moisture over a number of snows or rains to return conditions to normal.

“I’d actually be happy with just six inches of precipitation,” said Bull. “That would at least make a little difference. I’m not a forecaster, but I don’t think we’re going to get 24 inches of precipitation this year.”

Local rancher Vance said he may have to take out more loans in the future.

“If I have to liquidate over half my stock, I’ll probably need to take out a loan, said Vance. “I’ve found that the lending institutions understand the ranchers’ plight. They’ve been helpful to us in the past.”

Jimmy Watson, of Tucumcari Ranch Supply, said that owners of the larger ranches in the area are taking a “wait-and-see” approach when it comes to cutting back on their employees.

“The ranchers I’ve heard from say they are going to roll the dice one more season,” said Watson. “I haven’t heard of any cowboys losing their jobs, but some ranchers have said if the water situation doesn’t improve this year, they might have to consider letting some employees go.”