I drove like Rodney Atkins and took the back road to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. The narrow gravel road seems only a step above a dirt path with a weedy center line. I love that invigorating, countryside drive. I see some of the most picturesque cattle pastures there.
But an unnatural sight hardened the view and stifled its energy. Black cows stood around a water hauling tank on wheels. “The pasture creek must have stopped flowing,” I told the kids. I drove farther and crossed the bridge. Yep. The cattle’s flowing water source rather resembled puddles.
In the same weekend, my husband and I drove to a movie for our quarterly date night. We discussed crops as we passed fields of ill corn plants. He turned bitter. “I just want harvest to be over. I’m tired of looking at this crop.”
This fall we remove the crop and attempt to make this droughty season history.
The general crop outlook across the Midwest proves disheartening. Corn is a grass. Anyone with a yard knows how well that grew this year. Yet, livestock may fare even worse. Imagine an animal trying to graze on your yard. Pasture conditions became poor enough that Grandpa fed his cattle their winter hay in July. Meanwhile, the drought deteriorated field conditions, which produces less hay to restock the winter inventory.
Even after the crop harvest, my relatives and friends who own cattle will witness the drought’s physical impact until it weakens. Short supply of hay. Limited water in creeks and ponds. Poor pasture quality. Drivers through livestock country can expect to see more round bales in harvested corn fields this fall. Cattle will need the baled stalks. The government even released parts of conservation lands to bale for roughage.
Meanwhile, pork farmers face struggles, too. Feed carries an expensive price tag, whether high-protein soybean meal or distiller’s grains from the ethanol plant. In fact, a farmer with pigs told me he struggles to make money, and he grows some of his own feed. An economist says some livestock farms will not make it through the financial losses.
At most, some farmers will get out of the livestock business. At minimum, farmers may sell pigs and cattle at lighter weights or reduce their herd size. But I know farmers prove resilient. This may be the worst drought in a generation. Still, the eldest generations strapped onto similar roller coasters before.
The age-old challenge of weather impacts most anyone’s life, from farms to town parades. And like parade tradition, we march on again next year. We will faithfully plant in the spring with hopes that favorable conditions return. The livestock farmers who weather the struggles will expand. I look forward to when that invigorating scene returns to farm country.
Freelance writer from west-central Illinois