As early season wildfires engulf huge swaths of the San Juans, ranchers in Rio Blanco County battle other side effects of drought conditions
RBC | While Rio Blanco County may not yet register high enough on the drought scale to initiate federal assistance, the effects of the incredibly dry conditions continue to be felt by area ranchers. An exceptionally dry year can mean many things for those in the livestock business, bringing both short term complications and long term impacts.
At the Cripple Cowboy Cow Outfit, located on the western end of the county, the first drought challenge has simply been getting enough water to the cows to keep them healthy. The ranch began hiring water trucks to fill livestock ponds in December. Typically these cows would spend the winter getting most of their water from snow, but without the snow cover other sources were needed.
– Without snowpack, many of the natural springs that supply water to ranches won’t run this year.
– Cows will require more active management to make sure they stay in feed and water.
– Pumping water will continue to be necessary.
– Soon, it will also become necessary to supplement cows with hay as limited grass in the fields gives way.
– Cattle hang around what few water options there are in drought years, unwilling to travel far for feed. This means the grass in a two mile radius around these watering holes quickly disappears, leaving cattle hungry.
– As water sources dwindle, feral horses in the West Douglas Herd Area will soon face a desperate situation. According to local rancher Jon Hill, “If it doesn’t start raining soon and heavy, areas like Douglas Creek will really be in bad shape by fall from overuse by the horses. That means cattle and wild game won’t have feed this winter.”
A grim outlook …