Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Worries about Drought

We have a seasonal creek that parallels the driveway and flows for much of the year through the middle of one of our pastures. In the few years we've owned the property I've come to enjoy watching it. How swiftly and deep it flows and when it stops and starts flowing are pretty good indicators and predictors of our soil moisture status. Normally there is some level of water flowing through the creek from early winter through early summer and it's mostly dry from mid summer until late fall.

After our long, cold winter I was genuinely surprised to notice that the creek had pretty much stopped running in mid March. It seemed to be raining in a more or less normal manner but when I toted up our monthly precipitation it turned out that March was dry and April was even drier. Despite normal temperatures the cool season grasses turned green but refused to grow, it was that dry. It's normal for the subsoil to be dry in this part of the world in late summer but it's not at all normal for it to be dry in April. 

Most farmers in this part of the world make their living by selling the grass that they grow on their farms. Some sell it as hay, others graze cattle and sell it as beef and we board horses. From a business perspective the only real difference between them and us is the type of animals we run on our pasture. Dry springs  are often a precursor to drought and I was one among many farmers who were quietly beginning to get pretty worried. We were facing a situation of limited grass and next to no first crop hay. 

May precipitation was more or less normal but as the soil heats up evapotranspiration rates also rise. At the end of the day the extra rain was very welcome and it helped the grass grow but it did absolutely no good in terms of recharging depleted subsoil moisture levels. The prospect of drought became ever more real. 

Fortunately in June something changed. It started to rain again and in June it rained frequently. In total so far we had about 12 inches of rain. The creek was running full and fast. I joked that if Timbit dipped his toe in it we'd next spot him sailing down the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico! Soil moisture levels were recharged. 

In light of the very wet forecast at the time I spread some grass seed across our yard to help thicken the stand. This is completely unheard of in early June because normally it's dry enough and hot enough that there is no chance the grass will grow. When I checked a week later I think every single seed had germinated.

Some of the grass seed that sprouted died when the temperatures and moisture returned to more typical and seasonal levels through mid summer. But thanks to our wet June combined with continued occasional showers and enough heat to make the warm season grasses flourish our pastures look pretty darn good at this mid August writing. If we keep getting some showers will see the warm season grasses through the end of their growing season. While drought may strike at any time we've mostly made it through another growing season without having to deplete our stores of winter hay. At the end of the day you really can't ask for more than that.



Levendi, Elfin and Homer with halters on, waiting for breakfast and the farrier

Moe, Chance, Hemi and Thomas were giving us their cutest looks after we put halters on them this morning. "You're still going to feed us, right? You're not done yet?"

 Maisie and Cuffie didn't look very happy about having their halters on

Lotus and Cocomo

Noble and Lightning

Leo and Chance

Largo and Clayton

Gibson and Lotus

sunset skies are pretty


Denise Landstedt said...

I can't imagine what the farrier has to go through to get all those horses trimmed. How many does he have to do?

Anonymous said...

Yes, horse folk always worry about drought. we are in a far western suburb of St. Louis, MO
and we have experienced the weirdest summer I can remember. we had great spring rain, then a cold snap - the hay stopped growing - then some rain and a hot spell - ok, that's more like our summer - then another canadian polar cold - the hay stopped growing - then weeks of hot and WINDY - no rain - and the hay stopped growing - then a great rain just recently and another canadian polar wind - its 78 degrees here right now!
Strange weather.
Jane and Breeze

Melissa-ParadigmFarms said...

Denise we work with two farriers and they are here usually three days a month. It wouldn't be possible for someone to trim all of them in one day.