State of the Farm

If Pollan is right, and he is, then our bodies are on their way to dehydration! Dry says it all around the state and at the farm. We just closed the book on April 2011, a month with high winds and no rain. The wind exacerbates the loss of moisture in the soil, pulling it out in the evaporative process. Luckily, we had a lot of standing hay from last year, which helped deflect the wind and sun and thereby retard evaporation. Still, this started in October and at some point the ground cracks and the grass stops growing. We’re there except in our irrigated section.

We are not far from very high temperatures, which will only make it worse. If there are any good signs, we have at least for now seen the wind speeds drop. It takes a lot more, but you know you will not get rain when the wind blows steadily in the 15-20 mph range as it has for a long time now. That could mean we have a chance for moisture in June, maybe even May.

There are many short term effects of dry weather besides a slowing of grass growth. One that we particularly dislike is the suppression of worms and beetles, the invaluable residents of the subterranean soil that mine nutrients from the surface and transport them to the subsoil where they enrich the root system. When the ground is hard and dry, they apparently stay low, or perhaps go into a sort of hibernation. Another benefit of those creatures is the suppression of pesky horn flies, whose life ends in the larval state with the beetle and worms’ destruction of their cow patty housing. I’m sure the horn fly must have an important role in The Big Scheme Of Things, I just don’t know what it is. Nor does the cow, whose lives are much more comfortable without the flies, thank you very much.

Surprisingly enough, our animals are staying fat and healthy thanks to good hay that is still available and some “flash grazing”. Flash grazing refers to finding patches of healthy grass and allowing the bovines to get on and off quickly so that it is not grazed too close. The hay will get progressively more expensive as the drought wears on and we have to go further away to find it — the cost of transportation with accelerating fuel prices dictate that even if the cost of the hay bale itself stays the same, our cost goes up. We will grin and bear the cost because the alternative is to let our animals suffer and that we will not do.

Lest I am beginning to sound like a whiner, let me say this: we know from experience that difficult weather is short term, that there is a positive side to it even if we cannot discern it, and we always see nature come back strong and with a self-perpetuating vengeance when the weather normalizes, as it will. For now, we simply wait for that grand renewal. Count on it, because the alternative is unacceptable.