Southwestern N.D. farmers fighting droughtA familiar sight throughout the month of July has always been the round and square bales in the hay fields alongside roads throughout southwestern North Dakota. Now some of those fields are empty. The sting of summer drought and stormy weather has affected not only farmers but livestock producers as well.
By: An AP Member Exchange Feature By John Odermann, The Dickinson Press, The Jamestown Sun
DICKINSON, N.D. — A familiar sight throughout the month of July has always been the round and square bales in the hay fields alongside roads throughout southwestern North Dakota.
Now some of those fields are empty.
The sting of summer drought and stormy weather has affected not only farmers but livestock producers as well.
“We made only 60 bales this year and we generally make several thousand,” said Jeff Kuhn, who farms and ranches south of Dickinson. “We’re going to sell most of our cows.”
Many, like Kuhn, have decided to thin their herds due to growing doubt that they’ll be able to feed their cattle in the coming months.
“Every day goes by and you gotta do something. That’s a living animal, you have to do something,” said Lee Pavlicek, who farms north of Dickinson. “You can’t just put it on the wayside or wait a month and decide what to do.”
Some have decided to bring their cattle into Dickinson’s Stockman’s Livestock barn. Stockman’s owner and manager Larry Schnell said the sale barn is seeing about four times the volume it sees on average this time of year.
“In most cases it’s a shortage of grass, shortage of hay or a shortage of water,” Schnell said. “And it can be any or all of those.”
Most of the cows sold in recent months have been older cows and those who have produced poorly in the past. Schnell said he has seen younger cattle sold more recently.
“There will probably be some guys who sell their cows, and keep their calves and younger cows and if it doesn’t get better, they could sell them all,” Schnell said.
In the past, producers could have weathered the storm by purchasing hay from neighbors or shipping it in from out of state, but this year they have found little or no hay production.
Byron Richard, who farms around Belfield and South Heart, baled hay from a couple of wheat fields that were destroyed by hail.
“Being in a drought this year, having the farm base out there has been a real asset,” Richard said.
Other farmers cannot bale their fields because the nitrate levels are too high.
During dry weather, the nitrates are not used up and accumulate in the lower part of the plant.
“If the animals eat it, the nitrates affect the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood,” said Llewellyn Mankse, a range management specialist for the Dickinson Research and Extension Center. The complications from in-gesting the nitrates can kill cattle “in very short order,” he said.
Kuhn said it may be better for some ranchers to be understocked for a year or two and build their herds back slowly.
“Even if you buy hay this fall, you’re gonna be out of hay by spring. You’ll be out of money and you’ll still have those cows and you won’t have any grass, yet, either,” he said.
Wade Moser, the executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, said livestock producers have to consider a number of factors in deciding whether to sell their animals.
“The market is kind of strong right now, but it may be stronger come spring and they’ll have to buy in at a premium, and not getting the same genetics back that they’ve been working their entire lives for,” Moser said.
“The biggest problem I see is, you work years to build up those genetics out there, and all of a sudden you’ve liquidated your key genetics, your base herd,” Richard said. “To build back that type of genetics takes a decade or better.”
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