BY JOHN HOLLAND
Mother Nature has soaked the grasslands east and west of the San Joaquin Valley this year, to the delight of cattle ranchers who value this free feed.
It’s a gorgeous sight for city folks who drive into the foothills. For the beef industry, it means millions of dollars in avoided costs.
During much of the 2012-16 drought, ranchers had to supplement the grasses with purchased hay. They also might have sent cattle to market at less than ideal weight.
“They’re smiling,” said Tom Orvis, a rancher north of Oakdale and governmental affairs director for the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. “They’re getting a lot of feed, and the cattle are in great shape.”
This land is not irrigated, so ranchers count on rain to grow grass from fall to spring. The cattle then go to irrigated pasture elsewhere, to Sierra Nevada grazing allotments, or to market.
The first two years of drought reduced the grasses, and the third was so dry that the rangeland remained brown through most of winter. Conditions improved somewhat after that, even though the region technically remained in a drought.
Orvis said the rain gauge at his family ranch has measured 27.04 inches to date, the third-highest amount in records dating to 1934. He welcomes the warming weather this week, which will grow the grasses even more.
Cattle continue to graze for a while after the range has turned brown. Ranchers like to keep some in reserve for the fall.
The rangeland stretches into the Sierra foothills on the east and the Bay Area on the west. It is more extensive than irrigated cropland, but the value per acre is much less. Still, this open ground is essential to beef production.
Conditions this year are “excellent,” said Theresa Becchetti, a livestock and natural resources adviser at the University of California Cooperative Extension.
“This year, the rains started early and kept coming, producing more forage throughout the season, and once soil temperatures began to increase, the forage really took off,” she said.
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