Hay is in short supply in many areas, and is expensive
Wyoming is the fifth driest state in the US. Since 1999, much of Wyoming has been in a moderate drought. In 2021, very little rain has fallen in SE Wyoming, and due to the mild, warm winter, there wasn’t much snow to help the grass obtain it’s spring growth.
According to a new website launched by Govenor Mark Gordon, 71% of Sheridan County is under severe drought conditions. They include: Poor pasture conditions; overgrazing; hay is scarce; many producers are selling livestock early; more dust on county roads. Trees and vegetation are stressed, water pressure is low; well levels may decline and smaller creeks have less water than normal. According to the drought map, almost 3% of Sheridan county, the eastern most corner, is suffering from extreme drought, where snow pack is poor and surface water may not be adequate for ranching and farming.
For livestock producers, weather is a contributing factor to how well the rancher’s living is. Deep snows in the winter and drought in the summer all have their effects on livestock and the people who make a living raising animals. High hay prices, and low livestock prices can hit the rancher’s bottom line.
A few Southeast Sheridan County ranchers had this to say about the drought conditions.
Jeanie Camino, who has cows, sheep and horses near Clearmont, said “We sold our lambs early and culled our ewes down by selling 65 ewes in June. Our operation is small, but the two years of drought made it impossible to keep all our numbers. We will probably sell more ewes this fall. Also, we are not very far from having to feed our horses hay. It’s been tough, but I’m thankful for no fires in this area.”
As Camino mentioned, fire in these hot, dry conditions is always a worry. A careless driver tossing out a cigarette butt; the hot catalytic converter of a car parked in tall, dry foliage; or a dry thunderstorm with cloud to ground lightning can cause a grass fire that can quickly blaze out of control. Even a glass bottle that catches and magnifies the sunlight can start a fire in dry grass.
Christine Hampshire, who owns and runs Cross E Dairy near Leiter, had this to say, “(The drought) is terrible, it affects not just the grazing for livestock but the water supply for the stock and our hay crop production.”
Norma Malli, rancher in Arvada, was concerned about finding hay for winter. “We are not going to get any hay, unless we find it out of state. We are doing well so far,” she said. “We did have a good rain about a week ago, so that helped some. It’s pretty dang dry, and we just hope we can find hay. At least we’re in a better place than our grandparents who started out ranching here in Wyoming we have wells so we aren’t completely dependent on natural water.”
Bernard Betz, Clearmont cattle rancher, said that finding hay was a problem for his operation as well. “Our summer grass isn’t bad, but the winter pastures look pretty short. It didn’t get the early rain to grow very well. Hay is expensive if you can even find it.” Betz said they usually buy hay out of South Dakota, but South Dakota is in a drought as well, and it is hard to find hay there.
“We will probably sell the calves early this year, and we won’t hold over as many replacements as usual due to the shortage of hay and pasture.”
Linda Kernstock, Sage Ridge Mill and Critters, who raises Alpacas for wool, said this when asked if the drought affected her operation, “Kinda. I mean, made it hard to any make money with the price of hay. But other than that I have just been glad I had really downsized lately.”
Hay seems to be a major problem for ranchers in South East Sheridan County, and Derek Grant, public relations office of the Department of Agriculture in Cheyenne, said that there is a Hay Exchange Website for ranchers looking for hay, and that every county in the state is under a USDA declaration for drought, which allows ranchers to qualify for loans to help them keep operating and to purchase hay.
Governor Mark Gordon recently announced the launch of a new website that will provide detailed, updated information on drought conditions in Wyoming. Developed through a collaboration of multiple state and federal agencies, https://drought.wyo.gov, is a resource for multiple sectors that monitor drought conditions.
Wildlife sometimes need help during the dry, hot weather. Setting out small water filled containers, birdbaths, or water features give birds and small mammals necessary water. Deer come into yards to find green grass and shade. If you have a garden, the best deterrent is to fence the deer away from flowers and vegetables. There are also deer and rabbit repellent sprays with smells that animals don’t like that keep them away.
Dry conditions are bad, but high temperatures can be dangerous. When the temperatures raise to over 95 degrees for several days, the National Weather Service issues excessive heat warnings, like the one last week, “…Dangerously hot conditions with high temperatures from 95 to 103 degrees, and warm overnight lows in Wyoming, Sheridan Foothills. Heat related illnesses increase significantly during extreme heat events.” The warning includes a way to keep healthy during the extreme heat “….drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors. Be sure not to leave children and pets in your vehicle.”
Derek Grant, was optimistic about the ranchers in Wyoming. “Our producers are resilient, and have faced weather conditions like this in the past. We deal with difficult weather all the time in Wyoming.”