Saturday, June 23, 2012

Drought, again

A local friend recently posted on facebook, "One inch of rain does not a drought break." He's now cutting trees in his woodlot to feed his cows. We've had one one-inch rain storm since April. That's it.

There is no grass, no graze of any kind. So, the honeysuckle, briar and wild roses are next on the grazer's menu. The deer are coming down into town looking for gardens. The trees are hanging in there, their roots go deep, but for how long?

Luckily, we aren't short of ground water, here on our farm, yet, but I do have friends who are starting to worry about their wells. Maybe I worry too much because of the extreme drought I've experienced in Colorado, but I don't think so. I think my worries are realistic.

One aspect of this drought, which is now in its second year, is the lack of hay. Last year, we were tight on hay in this area, but had enough rain that it grew. And, the people in Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico, who had no rain and no grass, bought the hay that was grown here in Arkansas, driving the prices up as high as $10 a bale for small squares and $120 a bale for large rounds. The flock that we had then ate two small bales a day or a round in less than a week. We drastically cut flock numbers, selling many sheep, most of the dairy goats and more than half of the angora goats. With the new lambs, our flock still eats two bales of hay a day.

Now, the hay growers are looking at the ankle-high crispy brown stuff in their fields. I do have some friends who cut early first cutting in May, getting 29 bales off a pasture that usually yields 700. The fear is growing that there will not be any hay, at any price. And the drought is spreading. I still read the USDA crop progress reports, a hold over from being an Ag publication editor, or maybe from being a sheep farmer... and the number of pastures moving from poor to extremely poor is frightening. South of us they still have good pasture and way north. Maybe we'll be driving to Alabama to get hay.

We drove out to Wynne, Arkansas earlier this week to get some really good hay from Mr. Fred Spann. We brought home 42 bales. And yesterday I managed to snag 23 small squares out of a load from Kansas. We have our names down on 4 large squares coming in a load from Oklahoma. I'm going to keep getting what I can, when I can. With our flock at current levels we need 500 small squares to get us close to through the year. I don't see finding that many, not at a price we can afford.

The next sheep and goat sale is this Thursday. Sheep prices are still holding. Its not the first time I've sold some to feed the rest... it's just that I really thought we'd culled down to the best breeding stock, and now I'm going to take some really good sheep to the sale. I've advertised them locally at only $75 each, but with hay being such an issue, I've had no takers. I know I'll get far more than that at the sale. It's a hard challenge to balance farm pragmatism with modern heartstrings.

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