One of the realities we face as ranchers is our dependency on forces beyond our control--most notably, the weather. As a producer of grass-fed beef and lamb, our business relies heavily on Mother Nature's gift of rain to renew our dry fields with the lush green spring grasses that feed our stock.
This year those rains have been noticeably absent on our coast, and we are not alone. The entire American West is currently experiencing drought conditions, thanks to a freak weather pattern that meteorologists call the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. This natural phenomenon is pushing the polar jet stream to the far north, and delivering our much needed rainfall to Canada and Alaska.
Climatologists say that 2013 was the driest year on record in California history, and note that 87% of our state is set to experience severe drought conditions in the coming year. To put it in perspective, our ranch generally receives 29" to 31" of annual rainfall during the "rainy" season which is calculated from July of the previous year to the end of June in the current year. So far we've had about 4.3" of rain this season, which puts us at 14% of normal. With our normally grass-rich hills still dry and bare, many are asking how these conditions will affect our business in the coming months.
The answers are complex. First and foremost, we remain optimistic that there's still enough time to have a short, but decent grass season if we get several rains spread over the next few months. This would be enough to coax the naturally occurring forage to germinate and grow.
If this doesn't happen, we will need to make some strategic decisions. Drought conditions tend to have a "trickle-down" effect. We might consider solutions like buying organic feed for our herd (grass, not corn or other grains), but the growing demand for supplemental feed has also forced market prices to an all-time high making this a short-term solution at best.
The other logical option is to temporarily downsize our herd to insure the animals we keep will have enough to eat. We typically cull our herd each year as part of our on-going process to continually improve its genetics. Conditions mandate that this year's cull will be more aggressive, but as always our focus is aimed at doing whatever is necessary to maintain the wellbeing of our animals. This temporary downsizing will ensure our land and stock remain healthy in the long run.
We want to assure our customers that we are doing our best to maintain our high quality grass-fed meats for everyone to enjoy in the coming year. Thank you for your continued support and patronage as we "weather" (literally) the lack of storms which may define our foreseeable future. We will keep you posted. In the meantime, pray for rain!