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Published August 05, 2013, 10:14 AM

A change from drought

Agweek chatted with a few people in the Pierre to Gregory area on a recent trip through the state.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

The National Agricultural Statistics Service says as of July 29, South Dakota’s pasture and range conditions are 72 percent good to excellent, and stock water supplies were 81 percent adequate to surplus — a remarkable turnaround from the previous year’s drought conditions.

Agweek chatted with a few people in the Pierre to Gregory area on a recent trip through the state.

FORT PIERRE, S.D. — Mack Wyle and his wife, Karen, live seven miles south of Fort Pierre. Mack farms and ranches with his son, Kyle, and his brother, Bill, near Okaton, S.D., about 12 miles west of Murdo, S.D. The three related operations raise wheat, milo, feed and cattle. They have an Angus commercial herd of about 900. They keep their own replacements and background-feed steers to about 700 pounds.

Wyle cut back 10 percent of his herd because of drought worries. His initial game plan for the drought this spring would have been to sell his yearling heifers. But then he shifted toward selling his older cows so he didn’t have to replace them later. He has enough heifers to rebuild his herd to pre-drought levels.

The Wyles plant quite a bit of milo grain and “cane,” a hybrid sudan grass for feed. “And we planted some for grazing because we thought we were going to be short,” Wyle says.

Concerned about drought, Wyle had planned to start selling cows about May 1, but they got 15 inches of snow to get the grass growing. He made plans to sell cattle about June 1. Then they got about 7 or 8 inches in two weeks. That’s close to half of what they usually get in a year, and there have been subsequent rains.

“We’ve got good grass, and we’re getting our feed stocks rebuilt,” he says. Stock dams are filling, but the ranch also has artesian wells. For the past decade, they’ve had rural water as a back-up.

The Wyles had a good wheat crop in 2012. They were short on feed, but had some carryover. Wyle got his oats and spring wheat planted before the snows in mid-April, so they got a good start. Wyle destroyed quite a bit of his winter wheat, however, because it was too dry and didn’t germinate last fall.

Livin’ the dream

HIGHMORE, S.D. — “I’m truly livin’ the dream right now, says Terry McQuoid, who spends about half the summer looking for prairie dogs. Agweek found McQuoid and two friends in a prairie dog hunting lodge — a trailer house with air conditioning.

An area farmer host appreciates him cleaning out prairie dogs that otherwise compete for grass with the family’s cattle herd. McQuoid, who has been hunting on this place for 13 years, has a personal season goal of eliminating 10,000 prairie dogs a year.

With two or three friends at a time, McQuoid’s crew works on about 12 to 15 farms in an area north of Fort Thompson, S.D. This year will be short, because the number of dogs is down substantially from the “sylvatic plague.”

A first third-cutting

RELIANCE, S.D. — Randy Baumgartner and a nephew, Dustin Baumgartner, run a commercial herd with mostly Angus genetics near here. Their ranch is all grazing and haying.

The Baumgartners were bracing for a drought this year, but never had plans to cut back the herd. “We kind of planned ahead,” Baumgartner says. He says most neighbors were similarly prepared.

“We had a terrible snowstorm in April and after that, it started raining and things just started looking better,” Randy says. It was a green July — as good as it ever gets in these parts, he says. They’d just baled their second cutting of alfalfa on July 18, which was about normal. They got two bales to the acre in the first cutting, about a bale to the acre in the second cutting.

It was looking like the family would get a third cutting, which is the first time that’s ever happened on this place, Baumgartner says.