Ranchers Take Measures to Survive Dry Weather
TODAY, the California Farm Bureau
Federation reports this fall’s rainy season has not brought the
relief cattle ranchers had hoped for since last spring’s lack of precipitation
deteriorated California pastures.
moisture late November helped fill stock ponds and started seasonal streams
flowing, said Glenn Nader, a
University of California Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources
advisor for Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties. But in terms of growing feed, the
rain came a little late.
may germinate, but they'll just sit there," Nader said. "There's not
going to be any rapid growth until March—unless we get an unusually warm
the springtime was so dry, ranchers who move their cattle to summer pastures
did not have much dry feed for their animals to come home to this fall. And
where they do have dry feed, stock water has been very limited, and hauling
water can be cost-prohibitive, Nader noted.
of them were hoping they'd get an early germination and have green feed to go
into the winter with, and that just didn't occur," he said.
state will still need successive rains this winter and enough ground moisture
to support decent growth next year, Nader added.
now, ranchers will have to find other forage sources, including dry feed and
supplementing with hay, he said, noting that less hay production this year due
to drought has led to tight supplies and high prices.
can quickly feed themselves into a negative cash flow with today's hay
prices," he said. "That's why a lot of people are looking at
alternative dry matter sources such as corn stover, rice straw and other
things, to try and cheapen up those costs."
Andy Domenigoni, who runs cattle on dryland pasture in Riverside and
Tulare counties, said in addition to feeding hay since September, he buys
culled oranges, lemons, avocados and other vegetable and fruit byproducts from
a local packinghouse to supplement until range conditions improve.
weaned his calves early this year and thinned about 25 percent of his cows when
he saw how low he was getting on feed. He had already culled about 15 percent
of his herd last year and sold all of his heifers the last two years, so he has
aggressive herd liquidations across the nation in recent years due to drought
have kept the cattle market strong for producers, Domenigoni said, and it will
take some time before U.S. cattle ranchers can begin to fully rebuild after
years of contraction.
cattle numbers are short, the prices stay up, and those who can afford to stay
in the business will make some money," he said.
Joaquin County cattle rancher Rich Rice
said high cattle prices have been good for those who have cattle to sell, but
if producers have to sell their cows due to lack of feed, they won't have many
to sell the following year.
you're selling the cows, you're selling the factory, because they make a calf
to sell every year," he said. "Sure, she's going to bring pretty good
money, but that's not really what you want to do."
he runs his cattle on rented ground—both dryland and irrigated pasture—that
land will cost him money even if he cannot turn cattle out on it. For the
moment, he said he's been able to move his cattle to various properties to
stretch the feed, but he's had to send some of his yearlings to feedlots. And
while he hasn't reduced his numbers yet, he said with hay prices getting
higher, it would not be feasible for larger operations like his to obtain
enough hay and labor to feed all his cattle.
Nevada County rancher Jim Gates, who
raises grassfed cattle on irrigated pasture, dry weather has increased his
production costs considerably because he has to keep his animals on range much
longer and must buy more hay than usual.
|Jim Gates of Nevada
County, Photo/Ching Lee||
noted the Nevada Irrigation District shut off its water on Oct. 15, so he now
depends totally on rainfall to grow his pasture. He said his region received
about two inches of rain last month, enough to germinate grasses in some areas
of the pasture—but north winds immediately dried them out.
Cruz County rancher John Pisturino
said after the state's last drought several years ago, he began expanding his
herd, but he may now have to reduce his numbers again if the season does not
improve. He’s been supplementing with hay since September and has enough to see
him through January or February, at which time he hopes grasses will be long
enough to support his cattle.
Denis Lewis, who raises purebred Angus bulls in San Joaquin
County, said even though his cattle are on irrigated pasture, he has stopped
irrigating because the cooler temperatures in recent weeks have not been
conducive to growing grass. That means he has had to increase his hay purchases
by about 30 percent, while reducing his herd by about 10 percent. He said he's
concerned about how the drought will affect the state's dryland hay production.
growers are banking on the rain to make it grow, and if we don't get any rain
for two or three months, then what has germinated will die," he said.
County rancher Leonard Gorden said
not only is the drought affecting cattle producers—some of whom will go out of
business or reduce their numbers so severely that ranching will no longer be a
business but a hobby—but he said he's concerned about the long-term effect it
will have on the entire U.S. beef sector.
if cattle numbers get too low and the price of beef continues to get higher
because of that, I think our consumers will try to go to alternative protein
sources," he said.