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,;;Y.9ttiZST4:441, 4 NARK 1IICLAUGHLIN, rancher, near Naryneal “I buy rolls of hay, and I’m used to paying $25-35 a bale; now they don’t even smile when they ask you for $110 a roll.” Drought, continued from page 10 The distinction seems simple, but if you don’t get it, then Mark McLaughlin figures you’re not going to last as a rancher. The most important thing you own is land. Not cows. “I own land, and that land produces vegetation that has no value. You’ve got to figure out a way to convert it into something that will sell, and the way you convert it is livestock,” says McLaughlin, who’s pushing 80. “And you can choose your livestock; you could have whitetail deer, exotic animals, sheep, goats, or cattleor camels, I guess. The 19th century pioneers made a mistakethey thought they owned livestock and that land was just a means of sustaining their livestock; their focus was wrong, and they ruined this country. They overgrazed it.” During the past six years, as the rains did not come or 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 6, 2007 came at the wrong time, or in the wrong place, McLaughlin thinned his herd and watched his 27,000 acres southwest of Abilene take the drought’s punishment. “The cows have eaten all the grass. In a normal season, there’d be 6 inches of grass all over this land, everywhere,” he says. “You wouldn’t be able to see all of these rocks. Right now, the grass is probably 70-80 percent of what it should bef These days, McLaughlin’s using a bulldozer to pull out the water-wasting cedar and mesquite on his land. Then he’ll scatter native grass seeds, hope the land starts to come back, and remember an old rancher’s rule. “Do not fall in love with your cows.” Steve Satterwhite is a photojournalist in Dallas. Richard Whittaker is a freelance writer in Austin.