Dealing with drought

Dealing with drought

I first wrote this post in 2012 when more than half of the United States was in a drought, including our farm in Illinois. I recalled hearing about people in Texas who were selling off their herds at rock bottom prices in 2011 because they had no water, no pasture, no hay, and no grain.

And my heart was really breaking as I watched the Facebook feeds when the wildfires started and people were trying to evacuate farms back in 2012. Sadly, this is becoming a common occurrence.

I was speaking at a conference in California city in 2019 when it was evacuated due to wildfires. When I arrived at the hotel two days earlier, it had no electricity due to rolling blackouts. We had no electricity during most of the conference, and then in the last couple of hours on Saturday afternoon, we got the word that the city was being evacuated. It was heart breaking to drive to Sacramento and see livestock trailers of evacuees heading down the highway. I kept thinking that I hoped they had been able to get all of their livestock into the trailer. 

Even now I get choked up thinking about it and wondering what I would do if faced with a similar situation. And although it seemed like a remote possibility a decade ago here, it seems more probable for all of us, especially for those with no rain for weeks and months whose pastures now look like dried up deserts.

I certainly don’t have all the answer and am hoping that some of you have suggestions for dealing with this situation, which is becoming a new normal. This is what it looked like in 2012, according to the Drought Monitor, and this is what it is looking like now.

Tips for dealing with drought in the garden

  • If you are trying to keep a garden alive, you have to water a lot! A single can of water poured on a plant a couple of times a week isn’t going to do it. They say a garden needs an inch of rain a week. Think about how long it has to rain for you to get an inch — usually quite a few hours! Our garden in 2012 was the worst ever. We couldn’t seem to water enough to keep the plants producing.
  • Mulch your plants heavily (2-3 inches deep) so that the water you give them doesn’t evaporate.
  • To conserve water, use soaker hoses or just water directly on the ground. Don’t use a sprinkler because a lot of that water will evaporate, especially if you’re having 100+ degree days.
  • If you can, water your trees, especially the young ones, which don’t have very deep roots yet. We lost a two-year-old and two, one-year-old arborvitaes back in 2012.

Tips for dealing with drought and livestock

  • Section off a piece of pasture so your animals can’t graze it, and water it — if you can, of course. We’re lucky to have a deep well, which hopefully won’t run dry. Obviously not everyone is so lucky, and I recalled seeing quite a few water trucks driving by our farm in 2012.
  • You’ve probably already started, but if not, buy hay now. If you are in a drought-stricken area, there may be no hay, so you’ll have to look elsewhere or look for an alternative to baled hay, such as hay pellets for sheep and goats or hay cubes for cattle and horses. Here is more info on the difference between hay, cubes, and pellets.
  • Do not try to conserve pasture. It’s better to let your animals eat it while it’s green. When grass dies and turns brown, it loses most of its vitamin A and E.
  • If your pasture has already turned brown, you need to supplement your livestock with hay pellets or hay cubes. You can’t necessarily count on your mixed minerals because as they age, the vitamins are the first thing to lose their potency. 
  • If you have goats and plenty of brush on your farm, now would be a good time to get some ElectroNet and let them start eating a lot of the bushes and young trees. They are browsers and prefer to eat small trees and bushes, which will stay green much longer than grass and weeds during a drought.
  • Here are some tips on feeding cattle during a drought.
  • Here is information on feeding sheep during a drought.

If you have other suggestions — including things that have or have not worked for you — don’t hesitate to share in the comment section! We’re all in this together!

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Dealing with drought

3 thoughts on “Dealing with drought”

  1. Water early in the morning or later in the afternoon to early evening, when water is less likely to evaporate as much as it will during the middle of the day.

  2. In severe drought, don’t water what you don’t have to-plants or animals. Cull both. Often times, hard situations require hard decisions in order to save what we can.

    • That’s a great suggestion! I originally wrote this in the middle of the 2012 drought and when revising this recently, I’d forgotten that we did wind up butchering about a dozen wethers that did not sell as pets or brush eaters.


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