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Dry Winter Has Cattle Ranchers Worried About Grazing Lands

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FARMINGTON (CBS13) — California’s dry winter is making it harder for farmers and growers in the central valley to irrigate their crops.

Pastures that should be green for miles in January are instead brown and dry for commercial cattle spending their winter months grazing.

At Snow Ranch in Farmington, Orvis Cattle Company cows are feasting on hay instead of what should be an inviting pasture.

Instead, with less than 2 inches of rain this season, the grass isn’t growing as much as it should be.

“We should probably be four times that,” said Don Harper with Orvis Cattle Company. “We should be close to 8 or 9 inches at this point.”

Rain usually fills streams and ponds for the cattle to drink. Instead some producers have had to haul in water for their cows.

This century-old cattle company planned ahead. Runoff from previous years is filled in its own reservoir. While the water level is about 30 feet lower than normal, it holds enough for now.

The added cost of buying hay will likely take a big bite out of the ranch’s profit, and if the dry spell continues, ranchers may be forced to sell cattle early.

“You quickly eat away at the margins, which are very thin in the meat business,” Harper said.

As groundwater worries continue, ranchers are concerned, but remain optimistic.

“When dealing with Mother Nature, you have to take what you are dealt, and we’ve learned to have a sustainable system that takes into account the variations.

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