Ongoing drought affects rancher’s winter plans

Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 1:26 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - More than half of the state is still experiencing some form drought.

According to the NDSU Extension Office, more than 20% of North Dakota is in a severe drought. This includes central and northwestern parts of the state.

This time last year, the Tokach Ranch in St. Anthony was blanketed with 18 inches of snow. Leaving Richard Tokach and others in the Midwest scrambling.

"A lot of cattle were out. You just couldn’t get to them. It was too wet to get into the pastures or even the roads. And this year is the complete opposite to that. But last year was a complete mess, Tokach said.

Last fall, there was uncertainty over the food supply. The snow had either ruined stockpiles of hay or made harvesting the fields impossible.

So, many ranchers turned to supplemental feeds to help the hay last through the extended winter.

But when 2020 came around, there was another problem: the drought slowed hay growing.

“We had some rain here the last couple days of June. That was kinda the first we had. We had a couple three inches. It’s hard to believe we made a crop out of three inches of rain,” Tokach said.

It turns out all of that excess moisture from the winter stored enough to get the crops through the Spring drought.

Just up the road at the USDA Research Center, researchers are looking to improve efficiencies in grazing, and make haw shortages a thing of the past.

Mob grazing involves putting cattle on a smaller section of land, and having them rotate from section to section.

“We have seen reductions of that litter. So, in theory that should allow more light and more water to penetrate that soil and allow those native species to do better. And what we’re also seeing is that it takes away all that old stuff and that allows that greenness to remain,” said rangeland scientist David Toledo.

While the USDA lab still has years of experimentation to go, ranchers in central North Dakota are just hoping what they were able to grow will get their cattle through whatever this winter will bring.

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