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Record Rainfall Presents Challenges, Opportunities For Oklahoma Ranchers

Despite flooding and erosion on the South Canadian River, Toby Bogart hopes to rebuild his farm on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.
Jacob McCleland
/
KGOU
Despite flooding and erosion on the South Canadian River, Toby Bogart hopes to rebuild his farm on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.

Toby Bogart looks out over the South Canadian River from his farm near Oklahoma City. Normally, it’s a quiet river, a good spot for fishing. But after May’s torrential rain, the river is sprawling and wild, and it’s forging a new path right through Bogart’s farm.

“The river is supposed to be 200 yards, the bed is 200 yards over there,” Bogart said. “It’s got to stop because we’re right here where there’s nothing to block it now. If we get enough rain, it’s just going to gladly eat more and just eat it up as we go.”

The South Canadian has been gnawing away at Bogart’s land, eroding it piece by piece. The river’s current now crashes into Bogart’s sandy land. He has already lost about 120 acres to the water. Twelve of his cows were whisked away in the current. Just like that, he lost a quarter of his herd. He has since found one them; the rest are still missing. Bogart moved his mobile home into the middle of the street to save it from a similar fate.

“I will rebuild and it will be stronger when I rebuild but right now it’s just devastating to know … what it is that happened,” Bogart said. “I’m wanting to just wake up and say it was a dream.”

Until May, Oklahoma was in the middle of a four year drought. That abruptly ended when record-shattering rain fell across the state. But the ensuing floods caused headaches for some ranchers. Hay bales were ruined. Flood waters destroyed fences and scattered herds, according to Oklahoma State University cattle market specialist Derrell Peel.

“They may wind up a long way from where they are supposed to be and so there’s a period there of trying to locate and trying to get everybody back to where they belong,” Peel said.

The National Guard airdropped hay and feed for some of the stranded cows.

The South Canadian River has swallowed about 120 acres from Toby Bogart’s 1,000 acre farm. Twelve of his cows have been lost to the water.
Credit Jacob McCleland / KGOU
/
KGOU
The South Canadian River has swallowed about 120 acres from Toby Bogart’s 1,000 acre farm. Twelve of his cows have been lost to the water.

There are health concerns, too. Cattle that stand around on wet, muddy ground all day can develop a bacterial infection called foot rot. And Michael Kelsey with the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association said anytime a hot, dry period immediately follows a wet period, the conditions are ripe for an outbreak of a spore-based bacteria that live in the soil --- anthrax.

“The cattle come along and they’re rummaging through the grass so their nose is down in the dirt. That’s when they can be susceptible to it,” Kelsey said. “One hundred fifty years ago, millions of head of cattle travelled through our state on these cattle trails, and so when we see those bursts of anthrax -- occasionally, not very often, they’re very rare -- most likely they’re going to be on one of those old cattle trails.”

Kelsey said anthrax won’t be passed into the human food chain through beef because any infected cattle would die from the disease before going to the slaughterhouse.

Despite these new challenges, Kelsey said the rain was more beneficial than not.

“Ponds are full. Ground waters are recharged if you will so those subsoil groundwaters, which a lot of our grasses may tap into, especially our native grasses. And then grass growth throughout the prime growing season. It’s just wonderful,” Kelsey said.

Due to the drought, Oklahoma cattle numbers had been at a record low.

Derrell Peel said ranchers just started rebuilding their herds last year. The moisture should help them continue to expand, and perhaps even return to a higher production level.

“But we’re talking about effects that won’t appear for one and half or two years down the road,” Peel said. “This may help by eliminating the drought conditions, ensure that we get back to a point where we see some moderation in beef prices, but it’s not going to happen immediately.”

Back at Toby Bogart’s farm near the South Canadian River, long term market conditions aren’t the focus. His greatest concern is staying in the place he’s lived since the 1970s.

“I don’t really know what the future holds as of right now. I hate to give up something that I’ve always been on all my life and worked hard, and put it together the way it needed to be done, to watch it just disappear,” Bogart said.

Disappear as the river carries away his farm one chunk at a time.

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