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Drought Is About More Than Water

The weather here in Iowa has been pretty crazy the last few years; global heating has cranked the "weird" knob all the way to 11. This year is no exception. First we had one of the driest springs on record, with giant cracks appearing in the ground in early May and neighbors beginning to run out of pasture by the beginning of June.

Then it began to rain here, and by here I mean just in south east central Iowa. The rest of the state - and much of the country - is reeling from continued drought. Seventy-five percent of Iowa is still in a moderate to severe drought. I don't know if all your thoughts and well wishes for us have helped, but keep it coming, just in case.

To be safe, we opted to pay the guy who bales for us cash instead of giving him a percentage of the bales as payment. (Often the hay isn't very valuable, so paying with hay bales is a way to keep cash on hand). After cutting the hay, drying and raking it - a time consuming process that has to be done just right or your bales can catch on fire (if they are baled too wet) - we ended up with 250 bales. That's far more than we will need for the 33 cows (all pregnant we hope, with calves due in mid-August) and 25 yearlings we currently have.

The yearlings graze on lush, if mature, pasture

Right now, even with the rain, a lot of our neighbor's pastures are beginning to look more like manicured golf courses than lush prairie. Since we have already been through a dry spell, and cattle have grazed most available grass down to green nubbins, the grass does not have enough energy to regrow as their cows continue to graze.

If this dry weather keeps up, farmers may have to start feeding hay as early as August, when usually the grass will last until January. Our 33 head of cows, along with their calves, can eat about a bale a day. A lot of my neighbors have herds of 100 cows or more, so an extra four months of feeding cattle hay would be economically devastating. In droughts less severe than this one is, we have seen baled hay go for as much as $200 per bale.

goats eating
The goats too are happy with the available forage

All this being said, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. We may be sitting on a gold mine, but at the cost of other farmers. In hindsight, I am glad that we haven't stocked our land to the advised "carrying capacity"; with more cattle than grass to feed them, farmers ending up having to sell the herd many have spent a lifetime building just to save them from starvation.

The situation also drives home the importance of farmers making decisions based on what is good for the land, the animals and one's own self preservation over 'going big' to create an economy of scale to supply cheap food for consumers. Having a lot of animals might drive down the cost of beef at the grocery store, but the cost to farmers is more than just financial. It can end a lifetime's hard work with terrible finality.

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Dynamic Farm Duo: Wishing you amber waves of rain! - Shawshank Warshaw

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