This year’s drought has been one of the worst drought years I have seen on deGraan Farms. Just when we thought the Army Worms were bad, the rain stopped. On October 4th, according to the US Drought Monitor, our area in under a D4 drought. I don’t see any worse rating. Here is a link to their website: U.S. Monitor
Being a cow/calf operation as well as a beef producer, we have cattle at all stages of production that have different needs. We watch the weather and look at weather patterns to help us somewhat predict what is going to happen. Since we knew that El Nino came thru last year, it usually has a negative, dry summer effect in the Southeastern United States. (Correct me if I am wrong. I am not a meteorologist. I just learned about it in school and have taken notes in the past.) Last winter was very mild that produced too much rain with flooding. This spring was mild as well, but short. With the warmer weather, we luckily had plenty of rye grass (cooler weather grass) planted that turned into larger than normal amounts of our first cutting of hay. As soon as possible, we filled our barns this spring with an anticipation of a drought. We never thought it would be this bad. We are blessed with that hay, but our calculations did not anticipate a dry fall.
A drought in the summer is bad, but it happens. We deal with a summer drought with little monetary or animal health impacts. Usually the fall brings in the needed rain to restore grass production, and you can “take a breath” before winter. This year, however, the rain is not coming in the fall. This means we are grazing fields that we usually would not grazed. We put these stock piled fields to the side in the fall so that we can graze the grass in the winter and not need to feed as much hay. Since we are grazing these fields now, we will be feeding more hay this winter.
We also usually use fall rains to put fertilizer on our pastures to give the grass the nutrients the cattle need to grow and breed. Without any rain, it is harmful to put out any fertilizer because it will burn up the grass that is already there and if it does happen to get into the soil without burning the grass, then the nitrates in the grass will be too high for the cattle. This will cause sickness and even death in cattle.
Another blow to the belt is that experts tell farmers to sell cattle that are unproductive or posses even the smallest reason to sell them, such as a cow with a bad utter, a cow that produces smaller calves than you like, etc. By selling them, you give your higher producers a better ration of hay and feed. But, the market has dropped in the commercial cattle market. It is hard for us to sell a bred cow for market price right now. The calf inside of her is worth more than she is to us right now. So we are stuck feeding her hoping the calf will pay for her upkeep this winter.
Thankfully, a few months ago, the government stepped in to help. They gave farmers a Livestock Forage Disaster Program payment to help us thru the drought. While on an operation this big, the amount will not cover all the additional costs we will incur this year, it will help. We are humbled and thankful to the taxpayers and the government for any help that was given.
Another hit is the hay production. We cut fields usually three to four times a year. This year, we had a LARGE first cutting. After that, the cuttings have been poor. The fields are putting off less than a third of what they put off in a normal year without getting a third cutting. That hurts! Plus, the hay that we are getting is not as good a quality as normal years. It was not just the drought that hit us on hay production. We were invaded by army worms that come in during drought years. These pests come in during years of regular rain amounts, but not as bad as this year. You can read about that struggle at http://dgfarms.com/summer-invasion/
We do take steps to keep the health of our animals in good shape until the rain improves. To get breeding stock bred, we have to supplement them with feed and protein tubs. Our grass-fed beef production animals are on river bottoms. So far, the grass is wicking moisture from the river, keeping it alive and growing. The drought is starting to show there as well though. We have many animals dependent on us to provide for them and make good, healthy decisions for them. We also have many customers that depend on us to provide a top quality beef based on the same good, healthy decisions we are making for our cattle. So in conclusion, we do what we can and keep faith in God’s promise that He will provide.
“And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19