State of the Farm

Whoo hoo, this one’s a doozy. The drought that is. I cannot find a year in my 22 years of record keeping when moisture was so lacking. We have all switched from praying for rain to praying for a big tropical storm. Tropical Storm Don was a disappointment, but the really scary part of that is the way it just fell apart when it hit the lower Texas coast. No rain to speak of. What’s going on there?!

Here are the metrics on the rain deficit since last October when the drought started: we would have expected 33 inches of rain through the end of July. Instead, we have had 13.7 inches, a 58.5% shortage. Cannot make grass grow on those few drops of rain. We started and have now finished our only fresh-grass grazing cycle of the year, lasting 34 days before we ran out. The herd is in the section we call the oak patch and Clay is keeping their hay ring full. It’s so darned hot that they spend most of their sunny hours under the tree, venturing out to eat only in the evenings, night and early morning. Just goes to prove that a cow is smart enough to be a cow. Eat only when the sun is down and the air is cooler.

The porkers are much less active as well. We have been running the pig spa regularly to keep their shady mud wallow replenished. When they come out of the woods to look around, you can tell where they’ve been - a nice layer of glistening mud covers them. Pigs don’t have sweat glands, so cool mud is their only way to release body heat. We would not have had the 34 days of grazing fresh grass but for the irrigation system running  from February 15th until June 23rd in order to earn those 34 days. We estimate it required $1,200 worth of electricity to run the well pump that long. It would have cost about the same had we fed hay over the same period of time, so there was not a big dollar savings, but we would rather the mothers and their calves have fresh grass than stored grass, so we made the trade. It’s something. Cattle really like to graze a pasture. They eat hay as a second choice. So the grazing cycle was comforting to them, not matter how brief.

Hay and water well costs are absorbing our profit margin, but what are you going to do? We’ve spent 8 years getting our mother herd where we want it and our pigs figured out, so we’re not going to sell them just because it’s a bad year. Farmers just suck it up and run things off last year’s profit or new capital from the savings account, waiting for things to get back to normal. Things will get back to normal, right? That’s farming. Or should I say, that’s unsubsidized farming. No safety net for us, and that’s just fine. We like the tight-rope. It’s a survivor thing.

JVF