LAWTON, OK (KSWO) -Oklahoma ranchers are rejoicing as the cattle market is starting to show improvement across Oklahoma.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there has been a seven percent increase in Oklahoma's cattle inventory this year. On Jan. 1, there were a total of 4.85 million cattle and calves in Oklahoma. The number of all cows who have calved is already four percent above last year's total.
The Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association is attributing the increase to the rainfall over the last year, high grass and hay production, and high calf prices.
Like several ranchers locally, the years of drought took a toll on their businesses and some had to quit altogether, selling all their cattle off. Joe McMahan of Lawton says he was born and raised in the cattle business, and when he had to get rid of his herd it was the toughest decision he's ever had to make.
McMahan says it wasn't economical to maintain a herd during the consecutive years of drought.
"I decided I did not want to haul hay to cattle and also have to haul water and fence off muddy bottom ponds, so I sold out of the cattle business," McMahan said.
During the drought, McMahan relied on his hay business as the main source of income; providing bales to other ranchers for their cattle. He says it would sell as fast as he could bale it, but now because of the floods during May 2015, he has more hay than he knows what to do with.
"We hit a soft spot there in December where we could get back in for less than we sold out for, so we jumped out and bought some and we had all this hay sitting every place that is not selling. So, it was either buy some cows to feed it to or eat it ourselves," McMahan said.
McMahan says both ponds on his ranch are full again, and he made the decision six weeks ago to buy 35 heifers at the sale barn in Chickasha.
"We're happy with the heifers we bought, so everything is working out good. But being out of the cattle business, I had been in the cattle business since before I was a year old, I had always had a cow and my family had always had cows. When I didn't have any cows for about three or four years, it left a void," McMahan said.
Now that the void is filled, McMahan equates the experience to be like learning how to raise children for the first time.
"It turned out that the heifers we bought were bred right. They just lay down and they have their calves. Spit them out and they jump up like Billy goats and take off running and want something to eat, so we're happy with the heifers we bought," McMahan said.
McMahan says while the market is good, he hopes to increase his herd to about 115 head of cattle by next year.
Oklahoma makes up five percent of the total cattle inventory in the U.S. Last month, the inventory of all cattle and calves rose three percent above what it was in 2015 in the U.S.