Exceptional drought conditions continue to impact nearly three-quarters of the state of Louisiana. Cattle producers say some land has deep cracks that can break ankles and water troughs have been put out where they’ve never been needed before.
Shannon Midkiff, a cow/calf producer in DeRidder, Louisiana, says the drought has impacted his operation “tremendously” this year.
Midkiff says, not only has his herd been affected, but he’s seeing the economic strain of the drought. He was only able to grow and harvest 25% of the hay that he normally produces to feed his herd through the winter months. As a result, Midkiff says he’s had to outsource hay and purchase grain mixes.
In a normal year, Midkiff says he’s able to grow enough hay for his own cattle while also producing extra hay for others. This year, though, he says there’s no extra hay, and he’s already fed over half of the hay he purchased for his herd. “I’m probably going to have to go out and purchase some more,” Midkiff says.
Midkiff had to start supplementing hay back in August, he says. Normally, Midkiff says he doesn’t supplement hay until October.
Because of the drought, Midkiff says that his pasture quality is “very poor.” Shaded areas had some small amounts of vegetation, and Midkiff says his low ground “sustained the grass a little longer.” Overall, though, he says there was “very little grazing this year.”
The lack of grazing, Midkiff says, was partly due to the low nutritional value of the grass his pastures did have this year. “There was no protein value to it at all,” he says.
The USDA Crop Progress report for Louisiana for the week ending Nov. 26 shows that pasture conditions are rated 14% very poor, 44% poor, 32% fair, and 10% good.
In his nearly 30 years of ranching, Midkiff says there have only been two other times where he had to haul water to his cattle, and this year was the worst he’s ever seen. “We had to put water where it has never been before,” Midkiff says.
He says that stock tanks, small watersheds, and creeks that have never dried up before did just that this year. Midkiff says his friends that use land for cattle in the marshland area have said the marshlands have completely dried up.
Vincent Deshotel, a seedstock cattlemen in Ville Platte, Louisiana, says that the drought has definitely curtailed his operation, as it has with others.
Before the drought conditions became as intense as they are now, Deshotel says that he cut his operation in half back in May, which is now a blessing in disguise.
Deshotel says that some cattle producers have had to sell their entire herds because of the lack of moisture. No hurricanes or tropical storms made landfall in Louisiana this year, Deshotel says, which would have brought much-needed moisture to the soil. While he says he would hate to see crop producers subjected to tropical storms, those storms bring the moisture that enables him two to four cuttings of hay. This year, he says, he only made one cutting of hay.
That cutting of hay only happened because of five consecutive days of rain in July that brought enough moisture for his hay crop to grow well until he was able to cut it in early August. Deshotel says he fertilized again in August in the hopes of a fall cutting, but the dry weather prevented him from getting a second cutting of hay. “We’re halfway into our hay supplies now,” he says.
Normally, Deshotel says that they receive about 56 inches of rainfall in a year. Right now, though, as we move into the last month of the year, he says they’re 21 inches behind the average. “We’re terribly off on our annual rainfall,” Deshotel says. “There’s a lot of concerns about our crops.”
When it comes to the latest drought monitor map showing that over 70% of Louisiana is in D4 exceptional drought conditions, Deshotel says it isn’t lying. “Our surface ditches and stock ponds are so dry that you can go through them with house shoes. We’ve got some areas that if you get your foot in a crack, you’ll break your ankle,” Deshotel says.
The remainder of the drought monitor map shows that 16% of Louisiana is in D3 extreme drought. Seven percent is in D2 severe drought, 5% is in D1 moderate drought, and less than 1% is abnormally dry. Just a fraction of a percent of the state is free from drought stress.