Sask. snow brings end to cattle grazing season after tough year marked by drought

·3 min read
Ranchers will have to start dipping into expensive winter feed in areas blanketed by snow. (Submitted by Jon Raymond Dykstra - image credit)
Ranchers will have to start dipping into expensive winter feed in areas blanketed by snow. (Submitted by Jon Raymond Dykstra - image credit)

Drought-stricken ranchers struggling to provide enough feed and water for their cattle hope Tuesday's snowstorm brings moisture to their parched land, even if it means an end to fall grazing.

"The snow is definitely a double-edged sword for us, because we went into fall so dry we are welcoming any and all moisture. Even if it comes in the form of snow because that gives us hope for next year," said Adrienne Ivey, who runs a mixed farm with her husband near Ituna, about 134 kilometres northeast of Regina.

Ivey said this summer's drought dried up sloughs and dugouts on their land, but also allowed the cattle to remain out to pasture to graze instead of consuming expensive feed.

"There's been a lot of extended fall grazing happening and definitely snow cover makes that more difficult now they have to dig through the snow to get to the grass," Ivey said.

Much of Saskatchewan was under winter storm and wind warnings Tuesday.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, parts of the province could receive up to 35 centimetres of snow and experience winds of up to 100 kilometres per hour.

For farmers who watched their crops wither and dugouts dry out under the searing summer heat, the promise of any moisture is welcome news.

But Dave Sauchyn, director of the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative at the University of Regina, said it's going to take a lot more than one winter snow storm to make up for months of drought.

"With winds of 90 to 100 kilometers an hour, the snow is going to be moving horizontally and it's going to end up behind snow fences or behind buildings, or most of it's going to end up in ditches," he said.

"It's not going to be stored on the field. It's going to be stored by shelter belts and buildings."

Environment and Climate Change Canada
Environment and Climate Change Canada

Sauchyn said Saskatchewan will need snow and rain consistently over months before the soil can accumulate the moisture it's lost the past year.

"I don't think it's going to have much impact on the drought conditions."

That's not good news for rancher Will Lowe, who farms near Kyle, about 242 kilometres north west of Moose Jaw. He was hoping Tuesday's storm would bring moisture to his land.

"The way it's looking we're going to get missed again. Just the wind. That's all we get in southern Saskatchewan the last year and a half."

Lowe's cattle are still out grazing, which is saving him from dipping into his winter feed, but he'd trade a couple more weeks in the pasture for some snow cover.

"At this point we'd definitely not turn away the moisture. We need it bad. We're going into this next year with literally no subsoil moisture at all, so we need something to recharge the soil."

Prolonged heat and lack of rain ravaged yields in much of the province this past summer.

Lowe said his canola crop yielded a bushel and a half per acre and his hay crop was so bad there wasn't enough to bale.

Poor hay crops across the province pushed the price of a round bale to $200, nearly double their normal price.

Hodgeville-area rancher Garner Deobald said that with feed prices high and in short supply, some producers have sold off parts of their herd.

"A lot of people are unsure to how they're going to make it through the winter, especially if it ends up being a long and hard winter and there isn't much feed available," said Deobald, who is also vice-president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association.

He said the snow is welcome and will add moisture for next year, but it does mean producers have to bring cattle in from pasture and start feeding them.

"There is a little bit of feed that may be available for sale, but it's terribly expensive."

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