This is the second post in a three-part series on the impact of this year’s drought on the farm.
Last week I wrote about the impact of this year’s drought on our crops.
The drought has also impacted our beef production.
(NOTE: Read No Water, No Food: Drought in Italy – Part 1)
We raise a small herd of Maremmana cows – the local breed – outside on pasture. The goal is to have them eat as much of their diet as possible from pasture.
We supplement their pasture with hay as needed.
In a normal year, the pastures are most abundant in the winter and spring. The pastures always dry out in the summer time, which is when the cows receive the most hay.
During this drought, the pastures produced much less and dried out much sooner. Our pastures were severely limited. We had to increase the amount of hay we gave to the herd, cutting into our reserves for the summer.
At the same time that we had fewer pastures available, we had about a fifth of our normal hay production due to lack of rain.
We produce all of our own hay and any feed that the younger cows receive.
The hay crop was so low that in certain areas we didn’t even cut the hay to bale it.
Change of Plans
The significant drop in pastures and hay production meant that I had to sell more calves than originally planned.
We didn’t have enough hay or pasture to keep the calves and continue to feed the herd. It also did not make sense to buy hay because the prices are high.
The goal with the herd is to build it up slowly over time and develop an efficient grazing system on our pastures. Instead of buying cows to grow the herd quickly, the strategy is to raise our female calves to adulthood.
The decision to sell calves means that it will take us a few more years to reach our goals for the herd size than originally planned – and that our beef production will be lower over the next few years.
The next and last post in the series will be about the drought’s overall economic impacts and environmental considerations.
— Ariane Lotti