Each rain event has cattle producers in drought areas carefully assessing pasture carrying capacity

Drought conditions are adding insult to injury for some cattle producers who considering tough decisions if pasture conditions don’t improve soon.

Producers Jocelyn and Travis Wasko, who own XTC Ranches and Bar 4 Bar Ranches near Eastend Sask., are going into their third year of drought conditions and say they continue to employ a “take half, leave half” theory when it comes to grazing.

“My dad’s always taught me take half, leave half. And so we try to leave grass and so it’s really helped us do the job because we actually feel like even if it didn’t rain, we probably would get through. It wouldn’t be pretty but we would get through,” says Travis. “We find in dry areas here that the grass grows best if it has some carryover, and some cover, and so the take half leave half mentality is really important.”

Before this past weekend, since the beginning of April, they had only received about three-tenths of rain. Thankfully over the weekend, an inch of rain fell which Travis says will carry their 12,000 acres of pastureland through. That’s not to say they are out of the woods by any means, but it will sustain the minimum.

The concern for the Cypress Hills ranchers now, is getting enough moisture to ensure sufficient regrowth.

“I think we have enough grass for us for this year, just with our carryover. If it doesn’t rain again, then we’ll have to reassess things in the fall because we’ll have no regrowth,” says Travis. “We tried to get off the field we use in the spring, and then don’t touch it again, and then we rely on that regrowth. Again, it all depends on what we get these next couple weeks in June to get that regrowth that we rely on when we get out of those fields.”

Although the Waskos find themselves in a third year of drought conditions, they know conditions elsewhere are worse and know some producers in the area and into southern Alberta are contemplating some tough decisions in regards to selling cattle. High input prices, cost of vaccinations, and poor market prices have many producers questioning their involvement in the industry and ultimately, if it’s worth it.

Whether it is to combat the lost pastureland acres to drought, or the other conflicting factors within the industry, some are contemplating selling off a portion of their herd or getting out all together.

“I feel terrible. [Some producers] have no water in their dugouts, their grass is chewed off, it’s been so many years. You can be the best grass manager in the world, but if you don’t get any rain, I mean, we can sit there here and talk about being good grass managers, but if you don’t get any rain, it just doesn’t… You still can’t do anything,” says Travis.

For now, the Waskos and surrounding producers will happily accept the recent rainfall and hope Mother Nature brings a repeat performance in the coming weeks so those tough decisions can be potentially deferred.