A Tale of Two Pastures

written by

Joy Stephens

posted on

July 14, 2023

This month's newsletter is far more than just a story ...

The sunset the other night was ethereal.  
A glowing orb in hues of gold, coral, fuchsia, and crimson radiated across the sky as it sank slowly westward before disappearing below the rocky outcroppings of the Telkwa range.  Rick and I couldn't help but be mesmerized by it as we sat atop our hill that overlooks the valley and witnessed its descent.
Pensive but companionable silence reigned between us as we sat together in the waning light and then as we walked back down to the house. 
The only sound was the crunching of the grass beneath our feet but that crunch reverberates within us as though it were a freight train running roughshod through our lives.
We walked in silence because there's really nothing to say.
There's been no rain.
That fact dominates our thoughts and pervades every aspect of our lives right now.
Oh sure there's been a spattering here and there...  
Just enough to knock the dust down for a few minutes,
just enough to cause us to lift our eyes to the skies in hopeful anticipation,
but the clouds only mock our thirst as they roll empty through the valley.
We are nearly through our first grazing rotation on our home pastures.  Normally we would cover these pastures 3 times in a growing season but this year once will be all there is.  

The pictures below tell the story far better than I can ...


The picture on the left was taken the morning of Sophie & Josiah's wedding last year on June 11.  It was a veritable sea of green that day as the guests waded through the knee high forage to take their seats.

The photo on the right was taken in the same pasture on June 19 of this year following the first rotational graze of cattle.

This situation on it's own is painful enough but as if to add insult to injury we're now also dealing with this...


In the past 3 days we've had 5 wildfires spark up within 10 miles of us.  The one that is shown in the picture on the right is the most disconcerting as this road is our driveway but the one on the left is bigger and actually closer to us.

We are currently working on evacuation plans for all of our animals and getting fire suppression systems set up for our house and surrounding areas.  

Water is life,
and the cascading and compounding effects of what happens in a drought are manifold.  One of those effects is wildfires like these but there are more ... the dominos have started to fall and even now if the rains were to begin it'll be too late in a lot of ways.

Here's what the drought dominos look like...

Domino #1

- No rain means the grass doesn't grow, reducing the available feed for grazing animals and also reducing the energy and quality of grass.
- No rain means the hay crops are stunted in both volume and quality.

Domino #2

- With less grass available farmers cannot "carry" as many animals on their pastures as usual causing many to begin to sell off or "de-stock"
- This year farmers in our area are only getting 10% of the hay crops they normally do.  The costs to make those bales are the same whether you get 10% or 100% of the crop so having less bales available causes the hay prices to skyrocket.

Domino #3

- Many farmers will overgraze their pastures during drought to try to hold out as long as they can hoping for rain.  This damages the root systems, kills soil biology and if not reversed begins the process of desertification and erosion.
- Outrageous hay prices (3-4 times normal) will cause most farmers/ranchers to have to de-stock which floods the market and drives the prices of cattle down.  Turning injury into insult as now you have neither hay, nor animals, nor profit.

Domino #4

- At this point, we as farmers can do one of two things -  either we can pay the outrageous hay prices and try to struggle our way through until things hopefully improve next year or we can sell the cattle and try to
re-purhcase and rebuild our herds in the future.

The 6S Farmer's Plan
Git while the gettin's still good!
We have decided that we will be de-stocking early while the cattle prices are still reasonable.  Buying the hay at 3-4 times normal pricing will render us unprofitable (AKA broke as a joke) (AKA in the poor house) (AKA poor as church mice) (AKA can't keep the wolf from the door)
(AKA in dire straights)
well no need to go on - you get the picture ....

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