As I stood on my wrap-around front porch in this afternoon's 100-degree heat rearranging my Buddhist wind chimes that sang a little in the breeze, a large Cowtown tour bus passed directly in front of the house. I looked inside the bus, and sure enough it was peopled. I waved, they waved back. I thought with this record-setting 100-degree-plus weather that people would be as scarce as steers around here. But I was wrong. The Dallas Morning News reports that Friday marked the 27th 100-degree day here this summer.
If this is not weather drama enough, we are spinning the worse dry spell since the 1950s. And this current cycle is actually a ten-year drought history for the southwestern part of the U.S., which has coincided with a 2006 top ten record heat wave. I thought that this heat wave was the cause of the drought and dried up wells, riverbeds, and farmer's ponds. But actually they are two separate weather events - one from El Nina, and the other from the ongoing drought - that have created a perfect storm here, that has not produced any significant rainfall in 2005-2006. In order to break a drought the waterfall must be significant — the range needed is from 30 to 50 inches. The problem then becomes instant flooding that is extremely dangerous. Why? Because people think they can outswim, outdrive, and outrun what looks like low-water levels. If they are not rescued immediately, the result is usually death by drowning.
Naturally, this dry spell has affected not only Cowtown but all the beef-growing areas in Texas. Consequently, there have been record drought-driven herd slaughters. But this has not really affected the price or the availability of beef. One reason that the U.S. is in good shape on the cow front is because our beef has once again been accepted on the global markets for importation. What's more, there have been no cases of mad cow disease here in Texas. This is a check in the good news column for Texas farmers, but the bad news in rainfall far outweighs it.
So far this year, beef cow slaughter in the region 6, that includes Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico has been 422,100 head which is equivalent to 4.49 percent of January 1 beef cow inventories in these states. In 2005, beef cow slaughter at this point in the year was 293,400 head, a rate of 3.13 percent of January 1 beef cow inventories. This represents an increase of 1.37.
Governor Perry and the agricultural department both have declared Texas a disaster area because of the $4.1 billion dollar loss to farmers. On my drive to and from school each day, I pass a cornfield that is so yellow it hurts your eyes to look at it. You can tell that this farmer has long since given up on his crop. Despite students making ecosystem maps with "carnivorous cows," and "lettuce-eating trees" that teachers have to correct gently, adults should know that cows are grazers who eat only grain (mainly corn). But I have been able to use this oft-made mistake to teach students about consequences.