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As Nationwide Drought Sears Hay Crops, North Texas' Ranch Hand Rescue Struggles

When a farm animal comes to Bob Williams, it is dying of extreme neglect or violent abuse. Slowly, and through the beneficence of local veterinarians, foster families who offer up their pastures and the intensive care of Williams and his staff at Ranch Hand Rescue in Argyle, horses and llamas, goats and pigs get a shot at living out their remaining days in good health and relative comfort.

But with half of the contiguous United States in drought, it's getting harder and harder for the nonprofit. Hay prices have nearly tripled over the last year or so. Pastures have dried up and hay crops are yielding fewer bales. In Texas, though drought conditions have eased, plants' root systems haven't fully recovered after last year.

"The prices are just about as high as they were last year," Williams says. "We're paying $135 for a round bale, and we used to pay $35 or $40 dollars. It's a big problem."

Since 2009, Ranch Hand Rescue has taken in North Texas animals seized by law enforcement and destined to be euthanized -- the hard cases, the walking skeletons abandoned to starvation that no one else can afford to take. "We take those animals, and our success rate is so high it's ridiculous," Williams says.

But it comes at a price. With the soaring cost of feed and the often discounted-but-not-insignificant price of acute veterinary care, it's incredibly expensive. The organization depends on donations to stay afloat and to take on more animals. It simply takes more money to do that nowadays. Factor in rising fuel prices to truck hay in from far afield, and Williams begins to worry.

"We've actually taken in more [animals] so far this year than what we planned, but it's a constant fundraising issue. There is a time when we have to say 'No, we can't take in any more animals.'

"I don't see it getting any better real soon."

(If you'd like to help out, check the website: Ranchhandrescue.org

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