‘Every time we have a dry year, we learn from it’

KELOLAND.com Original

LOWRY, S.D. (KELO)– Nestled in the rolling hills surrounding Lowry is Rock Hills Ranch. Two years ago, these hills were green and lush, but this year, they are scarce and bare.

Rock Hills Ranch is a diversified cow/calf, sheep and crop ranch owned by Lyle and Luke Perman. The operation was started in 1976. They have May and June calving cows and they have about 500 head of yearling steers as a stocker program, as well as their own replacement heifers.

So far this year, the ranch has had about four and half inches of moisture, including the snow, Lyle said. Normal rainfall is about 17.5 inches. But there is still time to make up that rainfall, he said.

Last year, their wettest month was July, with 5.39 inches of rain, which is unusual. Lyle is hopeful that they will see another July like 2020.

Along with little rainfall, they have also seen many 90 degree days, Luke said. Even with the hot, dry days, he hasn’t seen a lot of heat-related issues in the livestock.

“I would have expected to see some, but calving in May and June especially these June born calves, I was a little worried we would have some dehydration issues, but I actually haven’t really seen it,” Luke said. “So I don’t really have an explanation for that, but I am happy it hasn’t happened.”

“This year, I think the biggest impact has been probably on our hay production,” Luke said. “Our pastures are down, but I see the effects of drought more on our hay fields where we’ve been removing organic matter for quite a few years just a little less tolerant when we don’t have that organic matter built up in the soil to help buffer the dry conditions.”

A few things the Permans have done to mitigate the effects of the drought include dedicating all their perennial hay ground to grazing this year, taking a few less yearlings to grass this spring then originally planned and there is a good chance that they will probably wean calves a little earlier than normal and ship them off of the operation to reduce the forage demand later in the season.

Luke says their grazing plans have changed some and they are not expecting to have a lot of regrowth this year. They have slowed down their grazing rotations in order to give that grass a longer rest period. They will also not graze any of their land more than once this year.

50 years ago, they didn’t have the water development that they have now, Lyle said. The water development has been helpful in allowing the Permans to better utilize their range land.

Lyle added there are also products provided by the government to help with some of the financial losses of the drought, such as crop insurance, rainfall insurance, disaster programs and CRP.

The family also has some farmland and implementing no-till practices has also made a difference there, Lyle said.

“So when I look at 1976, when we had a drought then versus today, we can come through this a little bit easier than we could in 1976 just because of some of that,” Lyle said.

In terms of moisture, they are around 50 percent of where they would normally be, Lyle said.

“It’s a struggle, no question about it, but because of these programs and because of our actions, we are able to mitigate this a lot better,” Lyle said. “And I guess every time we have a dry year, we learn from it and think about what we need to do different the next time this happens.”

The ranch has a number of wells and rural water hook-ups they utilize to keep their livestock hydrated. This year, they will have put down around 15,000 feet of over-ground pipe by the end of the year, Luke said, which gets water around the operation where there is not a good natural water source. They do use a few dugouts and dams, but they keep the cattle fenced out of those areas and pump the water into tanks nearby.

They also have around 10 miles of underground pipe, Lyle added.

“The various issues that Luke talked about, water is one of the probably biggest ones that we have been able to overcome just by installing fresh water lines, either on top of the ground or buried,” Lyle said.

Luke has a spreadsheet where he keeps track of his grazing plans and they keep track of where they were at as the month of May progressed, he said. Based on his calculations, they will not have to feed any hay early. But if they have to start feeding, it won’t be until the middle of November.

“That early season planning…that I did, I’m sure happy I took the time to do that. It gives you some confidence going into the later summer months where we are not expecting any more growth but we will be okay,” Luke said.

If you are experiencing drought conditions in your area, please send your drought story and photos to aschumacher@keloland.com.

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