Permit use delayed, but moisture still welcomeWritten by Christy Martinez
Although it’s meant a delay of one or two weeks for trailing or shipping to summer pasture, Wyoming producers agree – they’d rather have the moisture than not.
“What I know from experience is that I’d rather have it wet than dry,” says Savery rancher Pat O’Toole. “We have a lot more moisture than we usually deal with.”
“We just like the rain, wherever it is,” says rancher Don Meike of Kaycee.
“This is the coldest, latest spring I’ve ever experienced,” comments Boulder rancher Joel Bousman.
This spring’s snow still lingers in the Cowboy State’s mountain ranges, especially in areas above 9,000 feet, and that means producers are waiting for either the snow to melt or the grass to grow, or both, in some areas.
In the Monday Morning Snow Report, released June 20 by Natural Resources Conservation Service Water Supply Specialist Lee Hackleman, it was reported that snow water equivalent (SWE) in the state was still 744 percent of normal.
“There is still a lot of water left in the high mountains,” said Hackleman.
“We’re probably a week late in getting going, but we’re confident our feed situation will be good,” says O’Toole of his grazing permits in south-central Wyoming and northern Colorado. He adds that he expects to see snow remain up high all summer long.
Bousman says there’s a lot of difference in his area, depending on the elevation of the allotment. His operation runs cattle on the Silver Creek Allotment in the Wind River Mountains, and he estimates they’ll be a minimum of two weeks late getting cattle there.
“Our permit usually starts July 1, and I don’t expect to even begin to get up there until July 15,” states Bousman. “Today, a major portion of our allotment is still white with old snow, but a lot of that can change really fast if the weather gets hot. A week of hot weather can make a tremendous difference in range readiness.”
To cope with the later move to the allotment, Bousman says producers in his area held off on turning out in their lower BLM allotments for 10 days to two weeks.
“The whole idea was to set everything back a couple weeks, so we purposely held off going on the BLM allotments, and I think we’ll be ok in that regard,” he explains.
O’Toole notes that the Forest Service has been great to work with on his permits, both in Colorado and Wyoming, in that his family will be able to use their lower permits first, then move to higher pastures as they’re able.
“Looking out the window, Battle Creek is roaring now, and it has been for days,” comments O’Toole, adding that his family’s operation’s biggest impediment is bridges. “We had one bridge replaced in Carbon County that they were unable to finish, so because of that we’ll have to trail a long way out of the way, and another bridge known as Sheep Bridge over Battle Creek has had damage from runoff and the incredible moisture.”
Although he notes those obstacles, he reiterates that it’s been good to work with the Forest Service’s range personnel to get the cattle to the mountains on time, with no change in stocking rates.
Meike says that, as of June 20, they had started trailing sheep to their mountain permits in the Big Horns, which takes a week, and they expected to start trailing their cows the next week.
“We’re not on schedule, and we don’t know what we’ll see when we get there,” he says. “We’re trusting we’ll have enough warm weather in the next week so that, when we get there, there will be good feed.”
Meike says there are snowbanks on their permits, but not so much as to limit access.
Martin Mercer of Hyattville says their permits at 10,000 feet will be a wait-and-see situation, as to how much they’ll be able to use because of the snow.
“We’re behind about a week to two weeks, as far as getting to where we’re going, but the feed’s good enough,” says Mercer. “The spring has been beautiful, with more rain than we’re used to, so that helps a lot. Every time we need a little bit of rain we get two to three inches, and we usually miss one or two of those, and the grass cures out.”
Mercer adds that water in their reservoirs is usually a problem, but of this year he says, “There’s water running in the draws, and there are little pools everywhere.”
Earlier this season, O’Toole says calving was a lot of work, because they calved a lot of heifers this year, but that lambing was the real tough part.
“We were at the peak of our lambing when these storms came, and we couldn’t get to the camps, so we took a pretty big hit with our lambing,” he explains.
“For us, everything is improvisation anyway, so we’ll improvise our way through. The grass is really coming now, and we think, from a grass perspective, that we’ll have plenty to get through the year,” says O’Toole.
Of his area in western Wyoming, Bousman says they’ve had lot of moisture, and that soil moisture is great.
“What’s caused our lack of grass is cold weather – it’s just been too cold to grow much,” he says. “The low elevations are looking good now, and especially in the last week we’ve had a lot of warm rain and warm days. We could have some record amounts of grass in two weeks.”
Mercer predicts the same for the Big Horn Basin, saying, “In the lower country the feed’s so much better than it usually is, and that will be the story of the year. All of our country has more than enough moisture, and better moisture than we’ve had in a long time, and it’s been timely, so it’s shaping up to be a really good year.”