Dry winter no comfort to ranching business
January 10, 2012
“Happy New Year to you too!” I call to the cowboy pumping fuel from the shop pumps this morning while I walk past from feeding the cows.
Adding, “Would gladly trade my running shorts here in for some snow-boots to get snow on the ground”. We commiserate about this warm, sunny weather making things too easy. Scary easy. Nothing is broken, frozen, stuck. No early calves born in a blizzard, sick and cold. No machinery broken down in a field of blowing snow. Things are as easy as picking out crazy in this year’s Republican primary. Scary too. Things are too dry.
Usually by January the feed truck has gotten stuck in the mud and snow at least once every week. Ice gathering at the edges of the ditches has to be checked to make sure it has not frozen over. Things get jammed up in cold and wet. There is fussing about feeding and the weight on the cows, stress. But this year there is no snow, or rain, and that is causing its own kind of stress. What happens when no water comes?
Asking my husband that question gets just the kind of reply I was expecting, but no real solace. His family ranched this place for four generations before us. Surely there were times of no water, what did they do?
His reply was, “There was always water. Even in bad years. There will always be some water. Some of the ditches that run across our fields flow from artesian water that seeps through rock from the mountains and into our high water table. Water always runs, even in drought years, just lighter.”
I know that little ditch. It is only one, and not very big. What will happen to the rest of the fields? The space up between the corral and shop usually has enough ground cover to think about cutting for cattle feed in wet years. This year that grass has all been ground down and is now just dull, gray sand.
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Strong wind blowing down from the mountain pass creates terrible dust devils that twist by the barn and dance around in the front yard before laying a film of fine dust inside our south facing windows. I am not a fastidious house cleaner, but that dust bothers me enough to take a swipe at it after the wind drops down, even if it is just for a few hours.
It is dry, and from all the reports there does not seem to be big relief coming. February usually brings in a week of wet storms. I am actually looking forward to those storms, no matter how many times a week the feed truck will get stuck.
But til then, and being that type of person with lots of questions. I ask my husband again, really, what will happen if we get no water? No water at all? Not even just a little? I know how dry and tense things got during our last cycles of drought in the ’80s and ’90s. I saw brown grass and thin fields. But that was in summer. This is January and things are all gray and brown now with no white in sight.
So he quietly says, “We’ll do the best we can.” That will be the New Years resolution for the crazy this year is sure to bring. We will do the best we can.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.