Drought, Look Out!
Updated: Sep 22, 2019
There are a lot of things in life that we know are important. We just don't appreciate how important they are until they effect us. I know that grass needs water to grow, but I always thought that nature is balanced and it'll rain before it gets too dry and I've never had livestock to care for during a drought. In the foothills of North Carolina, it's hot a humid here during the summer and it does get dry late in the season. It's been over a month since we've had a good rain. The impact on the pastures have made me change a few things on the farm to get us through this drought.
In our rotational grazing system, each paddock should get to rest 6 weeks before the animals are returned to the same area with the acreage we have fenced. This extends to 8 weeks when we get the final paddock fenced. Since we have moved the animals that has not been the case except with the first rotational - kinda.
The grass that was here in August was already slowing down. It recovered once after the animals were put on it, but we haven't had the rain needed for it to recover properly. to protect the pastures, I've taken the animals out of all the paddocks and confined them to the run. The exception to this is the rams which are still in paddock C and will remain there. With breeding season right around the corner they need to be separate from the ewes.
Lack of rain means that the sheep, who are most susceptible to parasites, are eating the grass close to the ground because its not growing back. Overgrazing is a huge factor in pasture health. Pastures that are overgrazed for long periods of time without being allowed to rest properly allow unwanted weeds to come in, erosion, bare spots in the grass, and a large worm load.
There are three options to dealing with drought.
1 - You can find more pasture to graze. Maybe use a moveable electric fence or rent a pasture. We have additional land so I thought I would try net electric fence. The ground is so hard it's been a challenge getting the posts in. I got this system used, so I'm missing a grounding rod and corner poles. There's also a couple patched holes. SO! needless to say, I have not been able to try this out myself, but a neighbor uses electric fence almost entirely for his goats and does well.
2 - Sell/Cull animals. If you don't have the pasture to support the livestock you have, an easy answer if you have animals to go to market is sell them now. This will reduce the impact to the pastures and it doesn't cost you anything to supplement feed from lack of grazing area. This isn't always easy if you don't want to part with your livestock or have already culled.
3 - The option that I took. To protect our pastures and animals, confining them to the barn and run is the best option and feeding hay. Hay is also helpful if the worm load is already high. Deworming as needed and then feeding hay for a recovery period is a great help. I thought I could get by with a square bale and a half a day - but they are going through 2 full bales with some wastage. I have a design to make a moveable, covered hay feeder for them this winter, but I didn't think I would it this early. I have two small hay feeders attached to the wall now. Having a moveable hay feeder this winter keeps additional waste out of the barn and saves space. This time next year when we have already stored a first cut of hay it wont be much of an issue to feed hay. As of now, I'm feeding hay that I bought at a deal getting it out of a field from a local farmer. Paying for hay eats into anyone's bottom line quickly and is just part of owning animals, but feels more frustrating since it's out of season. You except to feed hay in the winter. From now on we will HOPE not to feed hay in the summer, but will plan for it. Confining the animals creates other issues that I'll have to address later, but for now our immediate needs are addressed.
The run in just a few short days is down mostly to just dry grass. I know when we do get rain this will be a mud zone if I'm not careful. An unpleasant truth is more poop in a smaller area. With my favorite wheelbarrow, I clean down the isle! Sheep and alpaca are terrible about eating beside waste. Alpaca will pick one or two spots in an entire pasture to poop which is great for clean up in the run, but if I don't keep it "clean" then my risk of worms is higher. Charlotte the jersey is easy clean after. Can't miss those!
The animals are drinking more water while eating more dry mater so I'm having to watch our water tubs closely. We don't have a floater on ours to automatically refill. The alpaca love being sprayed with the hose - especially the oldest white female. She will lay down and get up and lay down again for the water. Fun to water her. Another issue is that our hay barn isn't delivered until the first week of October. All the hay that I've been picking up has to fit in the "loft" area of the barn or go under a tarp. A local farmer has been nice and delivered hay 15 bales at a time and helped me store it. Once the barn is here I can store more at once.
I've been looking for hay because of the drought and everyone is getting in their last cuttings now or very soon. If I could store the hay there are a lot of fields to get $3 bales if I get it out of the field. It wouldn't help me to have 100-200 bales on hand since I'm almost positive we wont get 420-450 out of the back field.
All in all were ok for now. Chase is obviously not happy with an added expense, but with their wool being processed I'm sure it will even out and they will pay for themselves. The first year is the hardest on any farm. With a steep learning curve, infrastructure costs, accident prone sheep (yikes!), poor pasture, etc the list goes on. But everything we do makes it easier for the next year. In theory. :D
Thanks for joining me on this adventure! Wish us rain!