NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

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NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Jenise » Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:18 pm

Last week flying home from Las Vegas, the site below our plane was rather horrifying: almost no snow. Anywhere. There were bald patches all over the big dormant volcano mountains like Shasta, St. Helens, Hood and Rainier that at this time of year are usually packed with snow, in fact Rainier especially. And sure, I was aware that the ski areas in the two major passes, Stevens and Snoqualmie, hadn't been able to open due to lack of snow, and I knew of California's situation, but seeing the evidence that we go where they go as hundreds of miles of snowless forest in Oregon and Washington rolled out below me brought it all home. From Yahoo news:


AROMAS, Calif. (AP) — In January, business at the 101 Livestock Market's cattle auction on California's Central Coast is usually slow. The busy season is normally in June or July, when ranchers have had time to fatten their animals for weeks on spring grasses.

This year, however, business is bustling, with packed pens of moaning cattle and cowboys standing on tip-toe to get a glance at their potential prizes.

Because of historically dry conditions, California's soil moisture — a key ingredient for the forage that cattle graze on — is low throughout the state. With feed costs high and weeks of dry weather in the forecast, ranchers are already selling off parts of their herds as normally green grazing pastures have turned brown.

"We're in the drought now, so a lot of these are going back to Texas," said rancher and auction house co-owner Monty Avery, gesturing to a pen packed full of cows. "We usually sell about 100-150 animals per week. Now we're seeing 800-1,000 per week, so the volume's jumped up."

Gov. Jerry Brown has formally proclaimed a drought in California, a move that codified what farmers and ranchers in the state had known for weeks. The U.S. Drought Monitor has said there are "extreme drought" conditions in central and northern California, where much of the state's ranching is located.

California is now in its third dry year, with little snowfall so far this winter and forecasts suggesting only more sunshine. Precipitation in most of the state is less than 20 percent of normal and reservoirs are dwindling — one town on California's far northern coast says it has fewer than 100 days of drinking water in storage.

The state is the nation's leader in dairy cows, and fourth overall in the U.S. for total number of cattle, trailing Texas, Nebraska and Kansas, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. With little free food available for cattle, some ranchers have already started controlling costs.

Romaldo Martin, a cattle rancher who runs M&M Farms in Hollister, has sold more than 160 cows and calves at 101 Livestock Market over the past two weeks and plans to sell at least 100 more. He said it's too expensive to buy hay to feed his herd, and the water on his land is drying up.

"If the weather doesn't change, I might need to get rid of all of them," said Martin, who is in his 70s and used to run about 600 heads of cattle. "I've never seen anything like this in my life ... It's a disaster."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Jan. 16 declared a drought disaster in some California counties, which allows farmers to apply for low-interest loans to help them cope. Ranchers are not included in the program.

To help them navigate the historic dry weather, the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is holding workshops.

From previous droughts we've learned that feeding the whole herd through the drought may spell the end of business," said Glenn Nader, adviser for the program in Sutter and Yuba counties.

Some of California's herd will be headed to Texas, which is recovering from its own severe drought. That state's herd of five million head of cattle has shrunk over the past few years by a quarter, said Jason Cleere, a rancher and beef cattle specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension at Texas A&M University.

But as the drought has eased in most of Texas, the herd is being rebuilt, creating a market for California's ranchers looking to sell. "There's a lot of room for more cows to come into our state, and for ranchers to add some back," Cleere said.

While in the short term selling cattle can help ranchers cope, it can push more of them out of business in the long run, ranchers said. Rebuilding a herd isn't as easy as buying new cattle. It often takes time to get new cows acclimated and can take years for the animals to breed and grow.

Meantime, the state's herd will be thinned as ranchers trim costs and hope things will improve.



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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Robin Garr » Tue Jan 28, 2014 4:59 pm

Jenise wrote:the site below our plane was rather horrifying: almost no snow. Anywhere. There were bald patches all over the big dormant volcano mountains like Shasta, St. Helens, Hood and Rainier that at this time of year are usually packed with snow, in fact Rainier especially.

Well, it's good to know that it's not Anthropogenic Global Warming. :roll:
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Tue Jan 28, 2014 5:43 pm

I've never seen anything like the conditions we have this year. Last weekend, we were with some friends at a cabin at Donner Summit (yes, named after the Party). The elevation there is about 7000 feet and there's about ten feet of snow covering everything in a normal January. We went hiking up on one of the nearby peaks and rarely encountered even knee-deep snow. Most of the trail was dry. Folsom Lake, which is often releasing water this time of year to keep from overfilling, is at 17% of capacity. We've had record high temperatures over and over again this month and we're at a record streak of rainless days for January.

It's a crazy year.

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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Jenise » Tue Jan 28, 2014 7:52 pm

Gives you shivers, doesn't it, Mike? Seeing all that from a plane was like watching a environmental horror movie--hated to watch, couldn't turn away.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Alan Wolfe » Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:42 pm

It's good to know that the Delta Smelt is being taken care of, despite the shortage. :roll:
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Karen/NoCA » Tue Jan 28, 2014 10:03 pm

It is getting severe all over. A small town on the 101 near the coast of No CA, Willits, has ordered no outside watering, no washing cars, and 35% reduction in water use. All over CA it is bad. Here where we live, Lake Shasta is so low that people are walking the banks of the lake to find artifacts....boats whose owners never came to remove them are on dry land. We have observed in our own yard, not only damage from the heavy cold we've had for months, then hot afternoons, that all our flowering trees are coming out. Way too early for this. A much larger population of birds and squirrels are visiting our yard for a recycling water feature in our yard that provides water. Several other bird baths are emptied each day. We are already conserving big time at our home. We catch the flowing faucet water as we wait for the hot to come in. A bucket is in the shower to do the same. We are using that water to take care of individual plants we want to save. I hate to think of what is to come. So many folks are not clued into what is happening, they go along, clueless, sprinklers going everyday.....we are going to let our lawns go, and hoping to keep the trees we love alive with water we are saving. We have 25000 gallons in our pool....this will help. Yes, I am being pro-active, but better than being nothing at all.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Jenise » Thu Jan 30, 2014 2:30 pm

Karen/NoCA wrote:It is getting severe all over. A small town on the 101 near the coast of No CA, Willits, has ordered no outside watering, no washing cars, and 35% reduction in water use. All over CA it is bad. Here where we live, Lake Shasta is so low that people are walking the banks of the lake to find artifacts....boats whose owners never came to remove them are on dry land. We have observed in our own yard, not only damage from the heavy cold we've had for months, then hot afternoons, that all our flowering trees are coming out. Way too early for this. A much larger population of birds and squirrels are visiting our yard for a recycling water feature in our yard that provides water. Several other bird baths are emptied each day. We are already conserving big time at our home. We catch the flowing faucet water as we wait for the hot to come in. A bucket is in the shower to do the same. We are using that water to take care of individual plants we want to save. I hate to think of what is to come. So many folks are not clued into what is happening, they go along, clueless, sprinklers going everyday.....we are going to let our lawns go, and hoping to keep the trees we love alive with water we are saving. We have 25000 gallons in our pool....this will help. Yes, I am being pro-active, but better than being nothing at all.


Good for you, Karen, good for you. Everyone in California is going to have to be pro-active--and those who don't voluntarily step up like you will be forced to comply. Wonder how long before they let the golf courses go dry.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Thu Jan 30, 2014 4:36 pm

Jenise wrote:
Good for you, Karen, good for you. Everyone in California is going to have to be pro-active--and those who don't voluntarily step up like you will be forced to comply. Wonder how long before they let the golf courses go dry.


At this point and for the foreseeable future, all restrictions on water use by businesses is voluntary. The hope is that they can get organizations to significantly reduce their water consumption without absolutely requiring it. I think that's worth a try - there will be a certain amount of social pressure that will make it worthwhile for companies to be good citizens.

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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby wnissen » Mon Feb 03, 2014 8:25 pm

It rained gently for several hours yesterday, so I felt compelled to go outside with my kindergartener to enjoy the rare treat. Sort of like we used to do with the first snowfall in Ohio. It's sad, actually.

Our town gets its water primarily from the State Water Project, which is currently projecting no distribution this year. We already have low-flow everything in the house, not quite to the point of having a bucket, though. We've been dithering about what to do with the lawn, which we let get pretty brown in the summer, but still accounts for most of our water use for the year. This winter, though, it hasn't rained enough to get green at all like normal. We're seeing daffodils already!

The ranchers and growers have my sympathy, but they have been getting huge subsides for a very long time now, and if we have to choose between having water for people and growing crops like tomatoes in the desert, I know what I'd choose. The area near where my mom lives outside of Cleveland still has countless greenhouses from the time when it was the tomato capital of Ohio. Water is not a problem, in fact many people have sump pumps to prevent flooding in the basement. That's where the tomatoes were grown before the western irrigation program started. Of course, it's not cost effective to grow tomatoes in a temperate climate when you can grow them year-round with water paid for by someone else, so the farming stopped. It's starting to look like it will be shifting back sooner rather than later, with the West Coast drought and the looming exhaustion of the Ogalalla aquifer.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Mon Feb 03, 2014 9:44 pm

wnissen wrote: We've been dithering about what to do with the lawn, which we let get pretty brown in the summer, but still accounts for most of our water use for the year. This winter, though, it hasn't rained enough to get green at all like normal. We're seeing daffodils already!



We're somewhat similar in how we treat our lawn, except that we basically don't water it. It traditionally gets pretty brown by the time the rain starts and then perks up nicely. This year, not so much. I hope it survives.

I understand they're predicting some decent rain for the middle of the week. I hope that happens.

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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Jenise » Tue Feb 04, 2014 3:51 pm

Maybe it's time for the grass to go?

We spent a few days with friends in Lake Havasu a few weeks ago. I was there for three days before I commented on their green patch of lawn being the only grass in the neighborhood--and found out that it's fake. I was totally fooled. You see it here below in one of the shots I took from their roof deck.

IMG_0852.JPG
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Tue Feb 04, 2014 4:11 pm

Jenise wrote:Maybe it's time for the grass to go?

We spent a few days with friends in Lake Havasu a few weeks ago. I was there for three days before I commented on their green patch of lawn being the only grass in the neighborhood--and found out that it's fake. I was totally fooled. You see it here below in one of the shots I took from their roof deck.

IMG_0852.JPG


Tucson looks fairly similar - very few homes have lawns. Phoenix doesn't do that (but I think they have more water available from the Colorado?).

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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Jenise » Tue Feb 04, 2014 4:23 pm

Believe me, I'd have been the last person to champion fake grass. Fake anything! But this patch--very realistically colored, not overly rich, and definitely not an artificial shade of green--actually fit in well with their house's modern lines (more modern than most of the surrounding houses). Moreover, it's been there for ten years. Impressive.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Redwinger » Tue Feb 04, 2014 4:41 pm

Jenise-
Our cats would love to live in that neighborhood.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Jenise » Tue Feb 04, 2014 5:14 pm

Redwinger wrote:Jenise-
Our cats would love to live in that neighborhood.


Yup. Lots of natural Jonny Cat. :)
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby wnissen » Tue Feb 04, 2014 8:32 pm

Jenise wrote:Maybe it's time for the grass to go?

We spent a few days with friends in Lake Havasu a few weeks ago. I was
there for three days before I commented on their green patch of lawn being
the only grass in the neighborhood--and found out that it's fake. I was
totally fooled. You see it here below in one of the shots I took from
their roof deck.
IMG_0852.JPG

Yeah, we've done a lot of research that has resulted in no action on our part. We looked pretty closely at the synthetic lawns, but found that they were about $10 a square foot installed, and only really lasted for 10 years. I'm surprised the ones you saw were in good shape after that long. We have about 1500 sq ft of grass, so it was going to be about $1,500 per year, when our water bill for the whole house is less than that.

We also looked at Buffalo Grass, which is a very drought tolerant grass that goes brown in the winter. We worry that the water to get it established won't be available, though.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Jenise » Wed Feb 05, 2014 3:10 pm

wnissen wrote:Yeah, we've done a lot of research that has resulted in no action on our part. We looked pretty closely at the synthetic lawns, but found that they were about $10 a square foot installed, and only really lasted for 10 years. I'm surprised the ones you saw were in good shape after that long. We have about 1500 sq ft of grass, so it was going to be about $1,500 per year, when our water bill for the whole house is less than that.

We also looked at Buffalo Grass, which is a very drought tolerant grass that goes brown in the winter. We worry that the water to get it established won't be available, though.


My friends bought the house a year ago, so it's possible the 'grass' was replaced in the nine years prior but the reason for the sale was that the wealthy absentee homeowner had too many houses in too many places and decided to dump a few--'as is', fully furnished. Not the kind of situation in which a seller bothers with little fix-ups--you don't have to when you're practically giving it away. It was a custom build in 2004 so I/my friends presume the grass was as original as everything else. Would have thought that in ten years it would have at least faded a little bit, though.

My brother works at SFO and just wrote a letter to the Chronicle complaining about automatic toilets which flush when it senses any motion nearby, which is often more than once in the course of one person doing one's business. He and his partner, at home, have buckets everywhere to collect, for instance, the cold water otherwise wasted while waiting for the hot water in the shower, and they limit showers to two minutes each. They're not going to stop conserving, but what they save is a drop in the bucket compared to the needless industrial waste at the airport and he wonders what they can do about that. It's mindboggling to imagine how this can be dealt with if the drought goes on much longer--I read last night that one drought in California's past is believed to have lasted 240 years.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Redwinger » Thu Feb 06, 2014 10:04 am

Looks like the 7 day forecast for No. Cal. holds some promise of significant precipitation.....but probably just a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Brian K Miller » Thu Feb 06, 2014 4:09 pm

Alan Wolfe wrote:It's good to know that the Delta Smelt is being taken care of, despite the shortage. :roll:


Yes indeed. It would be better to send all the remaining water to irrigate alfalfa and surplus cotton!
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby Brian K Miller » Thu Feb 06, 2014 4:11 pm

wnissen wrote:It rained gently for several hours yesterday, so I felt compelled to go outside with my kindergartener to enjoy the rare treat. Sort of like we used to do with the first snowfall in Ohio. It's sad, actually.

Our town gets its water primarily from the State Water Project, which is currently projecting no distribution this year. We already have low-flow everything in the house, not quite to the point of having a bucket, though. We've been dithering about what to do with the lawn, which we let get pretty brown in the summer, but still accounts for most of our water use for the year. This winter, though, it hasn't rained enough to get green at all like normal. We're seeing daffodils already!

The ranchers and growers have my sympathy, but they have been getting huge subsides for a very long time now, and if we have to choose between having water for people and growing crops like tomatoes in the desert, I know what I'd choose. The area near where my mom lives outside of Cleveland still has countless greenhouses from the time when it was the tomato capital of Ohio. Water is not a problem, in fact many people have sump pumps to prevent flooding in the basement. That's where the tomatoes were grown before the western irrigation program started. Of course, it's not cost effective to grow tomatoes in a temperate climate when you can grow them year-round with water paid for by someone else, so the farming stopped. It's starting to look like it will be shifting back sooner rather than later, with the West Coast drought and the looming exhaustion of the Ogalalla aquifer.


But but...you are sounding like an environmental nazi! -Alan.
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby GeoCWeyer » Thu Feb 06, 2014 4:34 pm

One thing I am glad about is that the governors of the states surrounding Lake Superior and the Province of Ontario signed an agreement not to pipeline water out of Lake Superior. I know Texas did/is having water supply problems and has depleted it's cattle herd by about 80%. Now with CA reducing it's herd it is going to raise milk and beef prices. MN & WI will love it with their dairy industries. Uruguay and Argentina will enjoy the extra demand for their beef.

One thing about the cattle population is that it takes time to build them back up unlike the hog population.

Also since CA grows most of the fresh vegetables for the US there could be another large problem. I think most of the vegetables grown in CA are grown with irrigation including the large tonnage per acre grapes used in all the "creature wines". Thankfully the better wines are made from low tonnage production with grapes that "suffer".
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Re: NEWS: California cattle ranchers thin herds due to drought

Postby wnissen » Thu Feb 06, 2014 4:49 pm

Brian, your point about South America is well taken. Cattle ranching in the arid West is fine, but only where there's enough rainfall to sustain the forage. Using electricity to pump water from far away to grow grass or feed for cows is what drives me crazy. I'd love to see more animal imports from places with surplus water.
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