Lack of rain brings tough choices

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FSR drought forage

“As the sun set tonight in a lovely sky, it brought the realization that another day has passed without rain. It is worrisome, and yet I must remain hopeful that there will be enough to feed the milk cow and keep the chickens laying. Mother counts on the egg money, and we need the milk and eggs to sustain us through the winter.”

— diary of W.C. Smith, 1878

As I walked across the lawn toward the pasture with my dog, Kip, at my side this morning, I could hear the grass crunching under our feet. The pastures are brown and crisp, and like all the crops surrounding us, crying for a good, soaking rain.

Hottest days

On the hottest days, I watch the sheep lumber toward the barn and notice fewer antics from them. Typically playful, they don’t put on many silly shows on these scorching summer days.

Kip goes in search of cool reprieve, and one early morning, left my side for a time, later running toward me looking like he had taken a dip in a river, covered in burs and sticky green galium weed.

“Where have you been?” I asked in frustration.

He rolled over and plays dead. I was tempted to do the same. Instead, I hunted up the bur-busting tools, a big job needing done.

Lack of rain

In reading the writings of farmers from long ago, the common refrain regarding lack of rain is always their gravest concern. If the farm didn’t produce enough to feed the livestock, a family had horrible decisions to make.

Do they part with the horse, their pulling power for the farm as well as their only transportation, in hopes of buying a replacement as soon as they could afford to? Or do they part with the cow that provides milk and butter, needed every day?

If rain did not come when the garden needed it, the family faced a long winter of want.

Challenges

I listen to crop reports and feel for farmers across the Midwest as they battle drought conditions. As one person said to me recently, 2020 has been a bad year in just about every single way you could possibly name.

A farmer recently told me that when she checked various soybean fields, far too many pods were empty. Some rain fell here yesterday, and even though it wasn’t nearly enough, I can see that pastures already look just a bit greener.

Why is it, though, no matter the deficit, weeds can grow like gang-busters even in a drought year?

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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