Monday, March 21, 2011

Ranchers and the Weather

Growing up and living in the city I never really gave much thought to the weather other than what the temp was going to be so I knew what to wear and if I needed a jacket or umbrella. Living where your livelyhood is dependent on the weather has changed my outlook on the weather.

Now the first thing I watch upon waking up in the morning and the last thing I watch before falling asleep is  the Weather Channel so I know what the day will bring. In the winter that means watching the radar to see if snow is coming, how much and for how long. Depending on how much snow is coming and for how long and how cold it will get determines how much extra forage food we will have to put out for the cows. Too much snow at once with extreme cold and we may have to bring the cows in closer to the house in order to even get food to them. Cold wet snow and cold weather during calving season can spell trouble on a ranch if it catches you by surprise. The one pay check a ranch gets a year is all based on the number of calves you are able to send to market. That means that even the loss of one calf in a snow storm effects our ability to pay for such things as food and clothes for our family and needed supplies for the ranch itself.

Winter isn't the only time of year that we watch the weather and worry about what it will bring. Spring in our neck of the woods means wind. I don't mean a nice little breeze that welcomes warmer weather to the area. I'm talking about winds that howl around 30- 35 mph steady and can gust up to 60-70 mph for days on end. Now I grew up in West Texas and Flagstaff, Az and if you have ever been through those areas in spring you know that I'm no stranger to wind. So what is the big deal with wind and a ranch in spring? Well two years ago at the end of winter and after all the snow melt had filled all the water tanks on the ranch full to over flowing, two months of constant wind dried them out completely. Not a drop of water was left in a tank on our entire spread by the end of April and the wet summer season would not start until July if we were lucky. That left us having to pump and haul water twice a day to drinkers set out all over the ranch. It takes time and money to run a well pump and a water truck all over so that our girls had water to drink. It is still hard to think about all that water, given to us during winter, was just gone in the wind. You don't get it back, it's gone.  That year was extra hard as the summer rains that could have helped out never came. Summer was spent watching for rain clouds that just never came.

Summer here can be feast or famine for water, as it is for many ranches in the southwest. This last summer we were blessed to be floating away for most of it, and I will tell you that we never complained once about the muddy roads or cloudy weather. For a rancher the idea that "Rain is a Good Thing" is not just a title to a song but the saving grace after a year of drought. Sometimes I think waiting and watching for the weather in summer is sometimes the hardest for ranchers, at least I know it is here. That is because while you want the rain after a long dry spell what you don't want is for a dry thunderstorm to come rolling in. Thunder and lightening and dry grass with no rain is not combination you want. But when that rain does come... it is magical. There is something about that first heavy rain after waiting so long for it to come. The smell of the rain on the dirt is stronger and sweeter, the coolness of the rain drops on your skin and the cleanness of the air after the storm has passed is so much sweeter for all dryness that came before it. Yeah, rain is a good thing when it comes, a very good thing.

Fall for us is the one time of year that it is quite on the ranch. The calves for that year are raised and have been sold. The heifers we are keeping are weaned off their momma's and back with the herd and the next crop of calves are months away from being born and safe inside their momma's still. As much of the world looks to fall as the end of seasons, for us it is almost a time of renewal. It signals the start of another cycle of growth and renewal. It is also the one time of year that we are not looking to the weather on a constant daily basis worrying about what it will bring. If we are lucky summer has left us with full tanks of water and winter has yet to make a grab upon the land.

While I grew up just looking at the temp for the next few days now I look at what is our chance for rain or snow, is the wind going to blow and just how cold is going to get overnight. No longer do I look to the weather for my own comfort and knowledge but for the comfort, survival and knowledge of the cows, calves, bulls and horses that put their care and lives in the hands of my family. So the next time you look at the weather report and wonder if it is warm enough to wear shorts outside, take the time to think about the farmers and ranchers watching the weather and wondering....


  1. As far back as I can remember, Daddy asked us kids to 'pray for rain.' We knew when it clouded up to never complain, to instead pray that it would open up and pour.

  2. Yes, ranchers rely to much on what the weather will bring us. I always have loved the rain, and snow. Raised in this life, we were taught never to complain, because one day it just may not come so often, or soon.
    Right now we are looking pretty bad. I pray that God send us moisture, and I know He does have it all in his hands... so we just sit back and do as we can. :)


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