A coming drought?

There have been rumblings for several months that we could very well expect a drought in this region this year. I’ve heard it from old-time farmers and from meteorologists, from hay producers and amateur forecasters. When we had such a very mild winter followed by a very wet spring, I recognized this pattern as the same one we saw a few years ago – the one that ended up in a heavy drought that summer, burning up our fields and forcing us to import hay from northern Minnesota, trucking it in on several semis. It was an expensive lesson that I remember well – so this year, I’ve paid close attention to the musings of those who might better predict that I.

When you depend upon the land for crops or livestock feed, the weather can be friend or foe. My mom often teases me that I am much like Goldilocks with her discoveries in the bear’s house and even harder to satisfy: it’s always either too much rain or not enough. Isn’t there ever the just-right amount? In a way, it’s true. Too much rain causes my sheep to stand in water, grazing the grass blades that poke up out of the newly-formed stream that was once their dry pasture. These conditions can cause erosion within our fields and a change of forage to plants that are less palatable to our flock. Too little rain, however, dries up the forage that nature provides for our sheep, preventing them from harvesting their own feed and causing us to have to purchase feed that has been mechanically harvested – both an expensive and less environmentally-friendly proposition, not to mention the required labor to get it out of the pile and to the sheep.

Yet, the flock must eat, and we will do what we have to do to keep them fed, happy, and healthy. Actually, the fact that we had the parasite issues that we did last year has helped me to better prepare for a possible drought this year. Since I had made the decision to leave most of our acreage ungrazed until July 1 this year to eliminate the parasite larvae in those fields, I made arrangements earlĀ  this spring to buy up local hay. We usually buy all of our hay from one source who has been our “hay guy” since our initial annual purchase of 70 bales in the summer of 2000. Because I know that our now usual annual purchase of about thirty tons of hay is essentially all of the second and third cutting hay that they produce, I started nosing around for other hay sources for our sheep this summer in case we had to lock them in for the entire grazing season. And yes, you read that correctly – I move about 30 tons of hay into and out of our barns by hand each year for only the non-grazing months – the reason that I must look elsewhere if I need more for the remaining months of the year.

I ended up in touch with two other hay producers in April and May, and arranged to buy up much of their hay, too, figuring that if we didn’t need it, I could always sell what we couldn’t use. Besides that, I have also arranged with several other shepherds to buy out the hay they have left from last year. Overall, I think I have enough to feed all of our sheep for the entire summer and then enough to continue through the non-grazing winter months – but the key is the “I think” part. We won’t know how much hay they will cut and I will get, until they cut it – and that will be rain dependent. Less rain means less hay – and although I think I have made arrangements enough, only time will tell.

Yet, my real hope is that I won’t need all of this extra hay and pre-planning – that my efforts will be unnecessary as the clouds build and bring rain to our fields. Not too much rain or too little. I’m really hoping for “just right” this time!


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