Cattle producers face challenging season thanks to drought

·4 min read
Cattle producers in Saskatchewan are struggling with feed and water for their livestock due to the heat and drought in the province.  (Submitted by Darci Anderson - image credit)
Cattle producers in Saskatchewan are struggling with feed and water for their livestock due to the heat and drought in the province. (Submitted by Darci Anderson - image credit)

70-year-old Arnold Balicki says he has never seen a drought like this in his ranching area about 45 kilometres west of Prince Albert.

The cattle producer and his family have to haul water to the pastures to make sure their animals have enough to drink. Other producers in the province have to do the same.

"Our water supplies are dwindling very fast," said Balicki, who owns and operates the LB Ranch north of Shellbrook together with his family.

"It's kind of normal for every five or seven years for [the] southern part of the province to have a drought, but this drought has affected the entire province of Saskatchewan… So this is huge."

This extreme kind of drought is also new for cattle producer Levi Hull.

Hull and his parents farm in Willowbrook in east-central Saskatchewan. He says usually they don't have to worry about water in the area, but this year is different.

"It's tough out there," said Hull.

"Right now you look across Western Canada, we are all in the same boat."

According to Balicki and Hull, it's not only the amount of water that's the issue but also the quality of the water that can be a problem.

"The last I heard, there was about 1,800 samples sent in to be tested," said Balicki.

"48 per cent of the water samples were OK for livestock, 25 per cent could be treated to make it drinkable, and 27 per cent of the water is actually toxic."

Challenges on several levels

With dry conditions continuing to damage crops, cattle producers face challenges on two fronts.

They not only struggle to provide enough water but also feed for their livestock now and in the future.

"People are already making tough decisions about, you know, how many cattle do they even keep right now and where do they find the feed for them," said Ryder Lee, chief executive officer of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen's Association.

CBC
CBC

The widespread drought this year causes additional challenges for producers, according to Lee.

"Where do you go shopping for feed? That next area over is also facing the same thing."

Relief is currently not in sight for cattle producers, with no rain in the extended forecast according to Terri Lang, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Just "scattered showers or thunderstorms at best," she said.

Even if rain comes down in some areas, it won't be much help for this year.

"This drought has decimated the pasture lands … to the point now where there isn't much grazing left," said Balicki.

"Any that is there will be gone in two weeks."

In addition to all the unique difficulties this summer, the weather conditions of previous years also add to the current challenges.

"We have just had numerous years in a row of average to below average rainfall," said Lee.

"Now we're in a year where we're getting way below average and there's just no reserves to draw on."

Mental health

Cattle producers face several layers of stress, said Lee, with ranchers carrying the responsibility for their animals as well as their family's livelihood.

"If you feel like you're not being successful, that produces a whole level of anxiety," said Lee. "When you add it to those other two kinds of stress, it's a heck of a lot to take."

People need to speak more about the stress of cattle producers, said Hull.

Mental health is "something that we don't talk about in this industry very much," he said.

"I think it needs to be brought to light."

Submitted by Levi Hull
Submitted by Levi Hull

Both the province as well as other organizations have been reminding people about the Farm Stress Line, which is available 24-hours a day at 1-800-667-4442 for producers needing support.

Farmers can have everything planned out, said Hull, but they fully rely on mother nature.

"You actually don't know the demons that some people deal with on a day to day basis," said Hull.

"There's such a wide array of things that can happen on the ranch or at the farm that, you know, a lot of people don't understand."

Balicki says seeing his grandchildren helps him forget about his worries for a while.

As the chairman of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen's Association, however, he has received many concerned phone calls from Saskatchewan producers.

"I had 13 in one day from producers from one end of the province to the others that are just stressed right out," he said.

"You cannot measure monetarily the costs that this stress is having upon our industry, on our producers," said Balicki."

He is particularly concerned about the young producers in the province who don't have the fiscal capacity to secure money to continue operating.

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