August 14, 2006


A few weeks ago the word, for what is now clearly more than a dry spell, was 'catastrophic'. The first time I heard the word, it was almost in a whisper, as if the naming of it would make it more true. Then I started hearing it more often, still not spoken with ease, but with a sense of 'facing the facts'. At one point dad said that if i could conjure up two inches of rain, I could probably retire - he thought he could probably put together a few million dollars from the farmers and ranchers around here who'd give anything for just a couple inches of rain.

The small ponds and lakes around this country are as low as I have ever seen them - many are dried up altogether. Ranchers are working Plan B, preparing for Plan C, and have Plan D in the waiting. The main issue is feed. In a good year, cattle could graze the pastures of the ranch until winter, at which point they'd start feeding the hay that was cut during the summer. With the drought, the pastures don't have enough grazing to last until then. Also as a result of the drought, the hay harvest was smaller than usual. So ranchers have some tough choices to make - buy hay to start feeding earlier (but as a result of the obvious supply and demand, hay prices are sky high this year) or lease ground to move their cattle on once their own grass is gone or work with a farmer to plant a field of feed (turnips are one possibility) to tide the herd over for a few months, or sell cows now and hope for more rain next year. All of these options will result in a considerable loss of profit for the rancher.

The calves were 'preconditioned' last week, which means they were given a round of vaccine to prevent respiratory problems that they're prone to during weaning. Normally, we'd wean in October but waiting that long will be too much stress on the cows, so we'll probably be weaning around the beginning of September. The cows are already carrying their next calf, while still nursing last year's (isn't that incredible!?). The lack of grass could have repercussions into the next generation if we don't cut them a break and wean early.

I can't help but wonder if this is just the beginning of the catastrophe. Is this the beginning, not just of some dry weather, but of a dry climate? It wouldn't take long, in the scope of things, for these fragile prairies to dry up and blow away, taking this way of life with it. Hopefully this it is just a little blip that we must bear and everything will be greener next year.

1 comment:

Amysue said...

Your writing is the best. I hope it rains, but it seems it hardly rains in Portland anymore.