Thunderstorm activity all through the month of July dropped varying amounts of rain on neighbors but had routinely avoided us until the last day of the month. And when it did come, it came rather generously - 3 inches. I don’t want to seem ungrateful by any means, so I’ll only quickly note that it leaves us way off the needed mark. But we’ll take it happily. All the critters of Jolie Vue basked in its cooling, washing, restorative power. It was a beautiful event for all.
And as I write this segment on August 10th, an email report from Julia Gay Theeck, our farm correspondent and the one that keeps our manager on the straight and narrow, reports “rain” but not a precise measurement yet. Could it be that we are about to break this drought that started in October ‘08? There is reason for hope, but we will stay drought ready until further confirmation.
What are all the ways that a drought affects us? Droughts are compounding things. When your creatures are hungry, hot, dust-laden and uncomfortable, it can start an avalanche that grows as it rolls downhill toward you. A quick reaction is necessary; if you wait too long to address its coming effects, you can get too far behind to recover. Remember, we have to have butcher shop-ready meat every month in order to supply you and our loyal chefs, and short-cuts are intolerable in a sustainable operation. We always keep the long term goal in mind. So we don’t abuse our soil for the sake of curing the short term problems. Here are the antidotes to drought while we await the rejuvenation of the grasses that only water will bring..
- We have to import hay. We could buy the cheap stuff, but that’s going backwards too. We buy the highest quality hay wherever we can find it, and lean heavily on alfalfa bales, the most expensive but also the richest, sweetest, most nutritious hay available. Where do we get it? This year, we went all the way to Kansas. It’s rained all spring and summer up there, so they have plenty. This is not exactly a locavore’s dream solution, but better than the alternative, right? Desperate times call for desperate measures.
- We added misters to our shade trees this year - you know, the spray nozzles that atomize the water, causing a release of the heat and providing a 70 degree blanket of water particles...their cooling effect is impressive.
- Since our well is pumping water 24/7 for irrigation, the critters are getting 65 degree water in their troughs straight from the aquifer 350' below us. That cool water and the misters in the shade trees keeps their core temperature down. A cow that is over-heated will not eat. Ours are eating - and gaining weight. More slowly, but gaining nonetheless.
- We run our irrigation on the 29 acres where we have it. No matter how much hay you put in front of a cow, she wants the diversity of real grass in her diet along with her pleasure of foraging for the good stuff. Our electric bills go way up to keep our two water pumps running, but at least that part of our diminished profit stays in the local community.
The last effect of drought is a delayed one - - we are forced to use our pastures that are normally reserved for winter grazing. These pastures double as our reserve pastures in a drought and unless the fall rains break the drought, we’ll have to buy more hay than usual to get us through the winter as we hope for spring rains.