In years like this, anyone driving through western South Dakota would think they landed in paradise. This month (June), we received over ten inches of rain! With the average rainfall for our part of the country being eighteen inches a year, ten in one month is, well… remarkable.
Equally remarkable is the shifting, moody sky. From orange sunrises, to impressive clouds, to black skies, to rainbows; its quintessential performance has been Oscar worthy.
The prairie grass is iridescent in the fluctuating light. It ebbs and flows like a sea when pushed by the prairie wind.
Wild flowers bob their heads, daubing the green - with white, yellow, purple and pink.
And the water - the water is everywhere. The Cheyenne River is running high, and with a slight roar as it flows to the Missouri.
Stock dams, playas and any indentation in the earth are full after years of, “just enough” to get by. From the air these pools of water glisten like diamonds and if you didn’t know better, you would swear you were looking down at Minnesota.
This past fall, we did some work on our stock dams when they were about dried up. We dug them a little deeper and restructured the levees to improve upon their holding capacity. With this year’s snow run off and initial spring rains - they looked pretty good, but they were nowhere near full. One dam, that required the most repairs, is close to 30 feet deep at the center, and was bone dry until June.
Then a week ago, water came spilling through the overflow pipe as designed. A day later, all hell broke loose as it came pouring over the top. We decided we should buy a boat.
It’s also years like this when we wished we had two thousand more buffalo. The bounty of grass-filled-pastures awaits the buffalo like a just replenished salad bar in an empty restaurant.
To mimic part of the grazing process during these rain flush years, we will cut the grass for hay and save it for a non-rainy day (year). We cut in rows, leaving half of the grass in place to provide cover habitat for wildlife. And, we also leave many of the pastures, giving them rest and allowing the dry matter to settle into the earth, creating a healthy dose of organic matter to aid in the soil’s health.
Being a large landscape bison rancher, that manages the land for soil, grass, and overall eco-system health, that has an annual limited rainfall, and balancing that with your animal stocking capacity, is a little like walking a tight rope. Because we are not very good at that - we manage for drought.
Every rancher has been through a drought, and it’s during those years that you have to make a decision to either, buy food for the animals, move the animals, or ship them down the road to a feed yard/slaughter facility. The latter is never an option, and buying hay for 700 animals can get you broke fast. This is when we make the exception to our policy of not moving animals. We will either buy animals from a sourcing partner who is in a drought situation and our grass supply is in abundance, or we will sell animals to a sourcing partner if our pastures became too stressed, and our hay supply would run out. These animals will slowly integrate with the herd and be given a good life, and some may be harvested for food after they grow.
Drought years are not much fun and are hard on the people and the animals, but if managed right the land will always prevail.
Photography is also a bit more challenging during these times, forcing one to look hard for the prairie magic. However, if you look long enough the dried cotton wood stumps reveal themselves as animals from the brown, barren landscape.So go’s the cycles of the prairie, we love the good and try to be prepared for the bad.
This year, things are good - and so are the people and the animals.
As always, we thank you for your sustainable great taste and support - through the good times and through the tough times. Cheers! jill