I have been reading all kinds of articles online about how the drought is affecting farmers and ranchers. The last one I read was about a guy that I thought was top shelf. Thing is I now realize I may have misjudged him. I thought he was one of my kind. I realize now he is, well, normal. He stated that he didn’t know whether to be more upset at the weather or congress. Weather because of the drought. Congress because they broke for recess and didn’t give him a drought relief package. “What the Hell!?” Was my only thought. The cattlemen’s association echoed his words. Funny to me how we want government out of our business, then turn around and demand monetary assistance when in a bit of a tough spot. You know you should have a little cash saved up for a rainy day? Guess what, it will rain. So be prepared for it. I have been asked dozens of times what I am doing to relieve the burdens of drought. So I am finally going to share
When I came home and started farming with dad, we were hit with a drought a short time later. I learned a lot from that experience. First thing dad did was take me into the government office and sign me up for all their binding programs. I went along with it. I thought it was the thing to do. He then took me to get crop insurance. Again I thought it was the thing to do. I worked the first two years as a glorified hired man. I only got paid a little bit of money, only when dad sold some grain or some cattle. I had to supplement my income off the farm still. After two years I got to buy in to part of the operation, and some was through sweat equity (which I later found out to be worthless).
The great wonderful plan (plan being used loosely) was to expand the cow herd. It was not my idea, but it was for my benefit. So we kept every heifer calf, and ran them out on grass as yearlings. Without a bull. I had to feed those damn things all winter, fix pasture fence and turn them out without a bull? Here is a group of cattle, for my benefit, and there will be no way to earn an income off them for a couple more years. Yet somehow I am supposed to feed, and care for them. With what?
That’s when the drought hit. The cow/calf herd ate all their grass. The yearlings ate all their grass. We had hay fields that normally would produce 2.5 to 3 bales an acre. That year they produced 1 bale to every 2.5 acres.
Now I gotta back up even further. See cattle have never been a priority to my family. You turn them out in the spring, when rain causes a planting delay. Bring them home in the fall, after harvest. Wean calves when the weather and moon sign are right. Background the calves through the winter and sell them when its time to start doing spring field work. Calve out the cows in the winter, Jan-April. Got to have that done before spring field work. And every day feed them. Feed them hay, silage, tubs. You name it we fed it. We had some really nice top producing fat cows.
Now back to the drought year. I had to get creative. Hard to do when you are desperate. I wanted to sell those damn yearlings. But I was not allowed to. So I had to feed them. I had bale rings in every one of our pastures. The government gave us disaster assistance in the form of tub vouchers, and emergency releasing CRP. So that is what I did. I baled CRP and wheat straw, and fed it to the cows on pasture, along with the tubs.
I can still see the damage that was done to some of those pastures today, 11 years later. I spent a lot of time and resources taking care of those cows every day. And we had multiple pastures. Part of my routine was pulling cattle out of the mud, when they tried to get to the pond to get a drink. They would get stuck, get tired from fighting and eventually go down.
Shit man! It was time for a change.