MICHIGAN, N.D. -- Cattle ranchers Dave and Karissa Daws are used to slogging through mud and muck in the spring to take care of their herd.
But this is late October and the sloppy, wet condition of their corrals and pastures creates new challenges for the couple who raise Red Angus breeding stock on their ranch a few miles north of Michigan.
“In the spring, we start them in dry lots and push them out to pastures,” Dave Daws said. This fall, he and his wife have had to do the opposite with their herd of 100 cattle. The couple has had to move some of their heifers to corrals on their ranch because heavy rains flooded pastureland, so that the cattle could no longer graze.
Farmers and ranchers across North Dakota are facing similar challenges resulting from excessive rains, said Julie Ellingson, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association executive vice president.
“It’s been a year like no other,” she said. “Two years after having a statewide drought, it’s the complete opposite.”
The heavy rains have caused a variety of feed-related problems for cattle producers like the Dawses, including inability to produce quality hay and difficulty getting the hay out of the field and into farms and ranches .
“Feed accessibility is a major, major concern,” Ellingson said.
The Dawses, for example, have to dip into their hay supply earlier than expected. Between that, being unable to bale some of their hayland because it’s too wet and damage to some of the hay they did bale, the Dawses will be short on their winter feed supply.
“The quality of the hay; with snow on it, we probably lost 5% to 7%,” Dave Daws said.
Meanwhile, the wet weather also has delayed silage chopping by about a month so the Dawses have been unable to get their bull calves started on the feed as early as they would have liked.
“We’re about 30 days behind feeding corn silage to the bulls,” Daws said
Not only the lack of feed, but dealing with other fallout from muddy conditions is stressful for farmers and ranchers, Ellingson said.
“So much needs to get done. So many of the problems are beyond their control,“ she said.
For example, the dry lot the Dawses moved the bulls to no longer is dry, but knee deep in mud. While that doesn’t trouble the bulls, who contentedly chew their cuds while curiously looking at strangers, it does concern their owners.
The mud on their legs and bellies is something that the Dawses will have to deal with before sales in the next two months. The bulls, which are breeding stock, will need to be washed and clipped so they look their best for prospective buyers.
“We’re considered seed stock producers,” Karissa Daws said. “Most of them go to commercial cattlemen that are improving their herds.” The Dawses sell their and bulls and heifers to ranchers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
The wet, snowy fall has delayed the weaning of the heifer calves by several weeks so the Dawses also will have less time to get them ready for sales. In the next several weeks, the couple will have to get used the calves used to wearing halters, teach them to lead and clip them. Typically, the process would have begun more than a month ago.
The muddy conditions have also made it logistically more challenging for the Dawses to take care of their cattle.
The couple’s four-wheel-drive pickup truck barely crawls through the muddy ruts on the road that leads to the pasture where their cows are grazing, and water fills the ditches along the road.
To varying degrees, muddy roads and wet pastures are something not only farmers and ranchers in eastern North Dakota, but also the central and western parts of the state are facing, Ellingson said.
“This is largely a border-to-border issue,” she said.
For the Dawses and for other farmers and ranchers across North Dakota, the extra work they are doing to care for their livestock is the price they pay for raising the animals they love and they are reluctant to complain . Karissa and Dave Daws grew up on farms that raised cows and working with the animals has been a lifelong passion.
“A lot of our cows are pets,” Dave said. The way the cows gallop to Karissa Daws when she steps out of the pickup truck and into the pasture and calls to them is proof of that. Watching the cows chew the corn cobs she and her husband keep in the back of the pickup for treats, Karissa Daws names off the cows.
“Her name’s Lakota,” she said pointing to a herd member. “This one’s Rosella,” she said, nodding toward another.
“We can recognize every cow we have. If they lose an ear tag, we can tell you what their numbers are," Dave Daws said.
The North Dakota Stockmen's Association is working with decision makers to get some resources available to cattle producers, Ellingson said. The biggest help for farmers and ranchers across the state would be drier weather, Ellingson said.
“It’s a very stressful time for farmers and ranchers. So much needs to be done, and so many of the problems are out of their control,” she said
In the next couple of weeks, the Dawses will move the cows into the yard, which they hope will be firmer than it is now.
“We just want the ground to freeze up so we have a firm base at the cattle farm,” Dave Daws said.