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Sunday, July 22, 2012

There's more to a Drought than Short Grass & No Crops

There is a lot of news about the drought on the news programs recently.  CNN even did a piece at one of our local livestock markets just a few days ago you can view the link here.  Our area is in the second year of drought and we have been blessed with more rain than last year.  I am not saying that our pastures are green and lush, but we do have more pond water than last year at this time.  There are a lot of things that ranchers are contemplating and monitoring in these dry conditions.  Let me fill you in on what we have to watch even if we aren’t selling cows, because we are out of feed or can't afford feed for them.

One thing we decided to do was wean some of our calves early.  The cows have the highest nutritional requirements when they are producing milk for their calves.  Our cows are all 30-75 days pregnant as well.  Some of our younger cows were struggling to maintain body condition under the heat stress and drying pastures.  Weaning the calves will reduce their nutrient demands and hopefully they won’t lose any more weight.  The best case scenario is they will actually gain some weight before winter sets in.  I know winter seems a long time away now, but just like I don’t lose weight overnight, these cows won’t gain weight back overnight.

We have to make sure the cows have water in their ponds, can get to it and that it isn’t toxic.  Last year we used the drought as an “opportunity” to do some maintenance on some of our ponds.  Ponds, just like lakes and rivers, have silt deposited in them and need to be cleaned out periodically.  We had to use the tractor and loader to dig trenches in some of the ponds, so the cows could actually reach the water.  They were wading into mud up to their bellies.  Older (weaker) cows have been known to get stuck in the mud.  If they are lucky the rancher finds them quick enough, and can get them out and to safety before they die from exhaustion from the struggle.

If our ponds have enough water in them, sometimes they will develop blue green algae blooms.  We had one pasture develop this last year.  It looks like someone through bright green paint on top of the water.  Drinking the water can kill the cattle and any wildlife using the water source.  The algae actually produces a cyanide.  For more information about Blue Green Algae go here.

In a drought situation, your first instinct is to bale anything and everything in sight for cattle feed.  This sounds like a great idea until you learn about nitrate and prussic acid poisoning find out more about these here.  

One thing the farmers are really nervous about is aflatoxin in the corn.  Aflatoxin is a fungus that is found naturally in the fields.  It infects kernels that have a crack in them.  Corn is at much higher risk of this infection during a drought.  This toxin can have a negative impact on humans, cattle, chickens, dogs, well pretty much anything that handles or eats the corn.  For more information go here.

The final thing that we are all super nervous about is wild fires.  We all see on the news the wildfires in the mountains that are near big cities. Right now, there is a 100,000 acre fire burning near Ainsworth, Nebraska.  We have some friends that ranch in that area.  She has reported that it is 20% contained and one entire ranch was lost.  That means those cows (if they survived) have absolutely nothing to eat and their winter hay was probably burned up as well.  They are asking that if you want to help out to please donate to the Red Cross.  

As you can tell there are a lot of things on farmers and ranchers minds these days.  Sometimes, it isn't as simple as there isn't any feed left.  We try to shield our kids from the stress as much as possible, but sometimes it isn't possible.  When we got that rain a week and a half ago, I think the boys were more excited than I was.  They were ready to throw a party!  I know this probably sounds like a broken record, but if you are so inclined, please pray for rain and that the farmers and ranchers have the guidance to make the correct decisions in this tough year.

I just had to share this picture from last week.  Our long time baby sitter was in the 4-H Style Revue.  She was afraid that if she didn't have an escort on stage, she would fall over.  Our youngest gladly said yes to her request.  Aren't they adorable?  We love her like a daughter and she loves our boys like brothers. 

Have a great week and try to stay cool this week!

-A Kansas Farm Mom

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