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
Loved, loved, loved the photos and script! Thanks for sharing the often underappreciated beauty of the high plains and hills in South Dakota!
Beautiful! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it look so green and lush. Wonderful to see rivers and creeks flowing and the stock dams full. We too have received a lot of rain. We always say for the corn to be knee high by the 4th of July, this year it is over my head. I’ve never seen that in my life time. Loving the green as I know it can change very quickly. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures!
Thank you, Jill. Interesting about mowing in rows. There’s a big controversy in Maine right now over haying in June, which wipes out the bobolink nests and fledglings. Perhaps the dairy farmers might practice leaving wildlife strips for the birds, sparing at least some of the young. These field nesting birds are declining rapidly and need all the help they can get.
So appreciate what you are doing for the environment. Your story has even convinced one of my vegan friends to try your bison! You are doing it all right! Wonderful to see that scare water will not be one of the things you have to deal with this year.
love the pics! thank you thank you thank you!!
hot and dry in Arizona
You have prepared well and been rewarded.
Vision isn’t given to everyone and you and Dan have taken your gifts and shared them with all of those who have come in contact with Wild Idea, your books, photographs and essays and delicious recipes that come with our orders of beautiful bison. So much gratitude in my heart.
Blessings and good health to you, your children and your grands.