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I do not want to get into any arguments with anyone. I just want to share some observations.
Today I spent 4 hours pumping water out of our last remaining pond to provide drinking water for our sheep and 2 horses. Our ditch is totally dry, not even water for the livestock to drink. This is the second time this has happened since the ditch was started, back in 1884. The first time it happened was just a couple of years ago.
I’ve been on and off this particular property for 47 years. It’s been in our family that long. I would have to go back and verify our weather records but in general in the last 20 years it’s been getting hotter and dryer almost every year. We have had some good snow years but we’ve lost the monsoon rains that we used to get nearly every afternoon starting in July. This year we never got any. Even in the years we have been getting them thay are not as frequent and not as much rain.
Our apple orchard was planted in 1905. These trees have seen a lot. This summer I believe we have lost about 1/3 of them. Trees that looked great in the spring are now dead. Now granted these trees are at least 50 years past their use by date but still, it is discouraging to see these grand old trees die from lack of water. We have always done rotational grazing using holistic management principles but federal regulations to maintain the ability to sell sheep to Canada forbid us from moving the sheep to other pastures if we don’t have enough feed here. So we buy in hay.
Half of our normally irrigated land has had no irrigation water since late May/early June. It’s bare soil. I stoped grazing it early to let some of the grasses go to seed in hopes of building up a seed bank for when we have water again. However, I am also looking at what dryland pasture mixes I can plant that can produce feed on just the spring runnoff from snow and hope for a big snow year.
Our sheep flock is less than half the size it was just a few short years ago. We are planning on breeding 24 ewes, in years past we would breed 55-60 or even more. We have 104 sheep on the place right now. We would normally have over 200 including stock we are fattening for butcher. Covid had reduced the meat market to almost nil so we have freezers full of meat and few buyers. Nearly all of our restaurant business went to zero in March. Combined with high hay prices it is stressful and yet we are lucky, we at least have hay and no sheep will starve. (Neither will we but that is another story. )
I am reminded that we live in a desert here and that cultures before us had to leave when the climate changed to a hundred year drought (see current thinking on the ancestral Pueblo peoples) It’s one thing to read about in archeology books, it’s quite another when you are out in the hot sun looking at an ever shrinking pond and wondering if you will have to start hauling water from town. In the past the town has closed the public water tap where you can buy drinking water if they feel they are running short. We have a well for our personal drinking water. It’s a very low flow well and we have no way to see how it’s holding up in terms of rechage rates. I am concerned about whether we can depend on it provide water for us not to mention all the other animals on the farm.
Yet I also live in a rural area. There is no public transportation. It’s impossible to haul hay without big diesel trucks. There are no good electric vehicles with both the ground clearance we need for our gravel roads and the hauling capacity to handle our requirements which include needing a very long range just to be able to do grocery shopping. 75 mile one way trip to a major grocery store.
We are already solar powered as much as we can and produce more power than we use but we are forced to use fossil fuels to a much greater extent than anyone living in a more urban area. I know that the use of those fuels is part of the problem.
And now I’m off to take a minimal shower. I am too sheepy even for me and I have a high tolerance for the smell of sheep.
I have no answers, just more questions.