A couple months ago, while my husband was chatting with me before his noontime meal, I realized something. Despite having a nearly full feedlot of calves, he was done with his chores long before noon.
That's not normal most winters. I asked him why everything seemed so much more efficient lately.
His reply? It's a lot faster to feed when you don't have to push snow for a few hours before you ever load the feed wagon.
Now it's late March, the ground is clear and already we're seeing some tangible signs of spring at a time when some years we've still had to shovel or push snow.
We've had a relatively snow-free winter in central North Dakota. We really haven't had a single storm that produced enough snow to slow things down. We had a few inches a week or so ago; by the next day, it was gone.
We did, of course, have some mightily cold temperatures that lingered for a few days. That's to be expected. What's unusual is that we only had one such streak, and that the streak really didn't last all that long.
What does that mean for cattle producers? It's meant faster feeding. It means less feed and less bedding used. It means better cattle efficiency and cattle health. For those calving out, it means fewer concerns about cold-nipped ears and tails. And the thing I've noticed the most is it means less stress on the cattle producer.
But, obviously, we can have too much of a good thing, and it feels like we're trending in that direction. We haven't had much snow this winter. In the fall we didn't get much rain. That made harvest pleasant. In the summer we didn't get much rain. That made haying easier than in the incredibly wet summer of 2019.
But now that we're all going to start inching toward planting, there is a trepidation for farmers and ranchers in the region. Will there be enough moisture to get a decent crop?
For farmers, watching crop prices go strongly upward for the first time in years is exciting. But it's also a little scary to wonder if the seeds you put in the ground will amount to much. Luckily for most, crop insurance guarantees look to make for profits this year in any case.
For livestock producers, crop insurance won't provide feed. We're sitting pretty good on some feeds, but we're starting to talk about what we can save and what we should consider buying just in case the drought lingers and keeps the forage from coming up, whether it's forage that would go for hay or silage or forage out on pastures.
Anyone who lives in the Upper Midwest knows there is no perfect weather, no perfect year. A wonderful winter, with little snow and cold, can lead into a hot, dry spring and summer. In that spectacularly wet 2019, we watched our forages grow and grow and grow ... but the ground was so wet that much went to waste or couldn't be harvested until long past its prime.
I'm hoping we'll get some of those April showers that can help push the pastures along and make for a good start for those seeds. But we all know that might not happen. Hopefully we can all make the best of it no matter what happens.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.