With monsoon rain bringing drought relief to New Mexico, cattle ranchers who had to sell off stock have found a glimmer of hope, according to Eric Scholljegerdes, a range animal nutritionist with New Mexico State University.
Scholljegerdes specializes in beef cow nutrition and he conducts research at the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center. He said droughts force ranchers to sell off herds and, as the drought impacts ranches statewide, that can lead to a large supply of calves and cows being sold, reducing the price that they go for. Monsoon storms this year drastically improved drought conditions in New Mexico, including taking about 10 percent of the state out of any type of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor. But extreme drought conditions persist in the northwest and southwest portions of the state. The impacts of drought on cattle can be felt through every step of production.
Tom Sidwell says 2020 is the first year in forty that he’s been caught “flat-footed.”
“And my wife won’t let me forget it,” he joked during a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Southwest Climate Hub webinar on drought in eastern New Mexico.
Sidwell, who runs the grass-fed beef operation JX Ranch near Tucumcari with his wife Mimi, usually begins the year by clipping grass. The rancher has developed a system for estimating how much forage his pastures are producing by getting down on his hands and knees and using scissors to cut the grass poking up through a wooden frame measuring one square yard. He uses that frame to take samples of the grass growing in different areas of his pastures, collecting the clippings into plastic bags and weighing them with a hanging scale in his truck. Then he goes home to calculate how much forage he has, and how many cows he can support on it. That information is a crucial part of Sidwell’s yearly drought and grazing planning.
But last summer, Sidwell had a full knee replacement.
HARDING COUNTY, N.M.—Descending the narrow dirt road into Mills Canyon, U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Michael Atkinson jokes that in the nineteenth century some homesteaders headed to California surely reached the rim of the Canadian River, peered down its 1,000-foot-deep canyon and decided to settle here in New Mexico. He points to a small stone building on the floodplain below and explains that in the 1880s, Melvin Mills planted thousands of fruit trees. For more than two decades, horses hauled up tons of peaches, pears, apples and cherries, as well as walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. But in 1904, a flood wiped out Mills Canyon Enterprise and now all that’s left are the stone remains of the storehouse and Mills’s home and this wagon road Atkinson twists down. That’s not the only story this floodplain tells.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its latest round of funding to help ranchers affected by or living near wolves earlier this month. Nationwide, the grants amount to $900,000. One-third of that money will go toward projects in Arizona and New Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wolf Livestock Demonstration Grant Program offers two types of matching, competitive grants to states and tribes. One compensates livestock owners when wolves are proven to have killed their animals.