National Geographic : 1971 Aug
KODACHROME (TOP) ANDEKTACHROME © N.G .S. to the limits of his vision. He could see, as well, great changes. A fourth-generation Hitch piloted me over that 30,000-acre empire-tall, slim, 28-year old Paul. His father, H. C. "Ladd" Hitch, Jr., and he operate huge feedlots in one of Ameri ca's most productive beef-raising centers. They grow much of their own feed on 9,000 irrigated acres. All this marks a development of less than twenty years. "A fifth of the beef this country eats comes from within a 200-mile radius of us," the flying cattleman yelled. He dipped the Cess na's wing at a sprawling lot where 20,000 head of cattle were confined-each gaining about three pounds a day. Beside this richly brown patch of earth nestled watered fields and native-grass pastures, a pastiche of dark and light greens. Cattle Fatten From Bunyan-size Bin Paul Hitch leveled off, and soon we landed on a grass strip beside ranch headquarters. "Out here," he said, "the word is 'water.' No water, no feed. No feed, no feedlot." In a good year, 16 inches of rain will fall, enough to sustain one cow every 20 acres. Last year, less than 13 inches wet parts of the Panhandle. But deep irrigation wells, tap ping the extensive aquifer beneath this region, produce astonishing results. Winter wheat thrives and corn grows as high, if one may be pardoned, as an elephant's eye. To turn crops into sirloin, the Hitches and other feedlot operators serve cattle regulated diets of chopped ensilage and ground grain, plus protein supplements. Paul showed me a year's supply of grain. It filled a bin half as wide as a football field and half again as long, to a height of 121/2 feet. Larger bins exist. "What we do," my host summed up, "is simple, though not easy. We buy little cattle To commune with spirits, Indian braves once scaled Mount Scott in the Wichita range. Today a paved road leads to the 2,464-foot summit, giving visitors (above) a breath-stopping view of the 59,000-acre Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Within its boundaries graze some 800 buffaloes, grown from a herd of 15 in 1907. The num ber must be limited to prevent overgrazing. After an annual roundup (lower), some ani mals are sold at public auction or donated to zoos. The Wichita refuge also protects elk, white-tailed deer, and Texas longhorns.