How does the drought affect small farms?

Just yesterday I was thinking it was time for another rainstorm. Then early this morning I woke up to thunder rumbling outside my bedroom window, and the sacred sound of rain splashing the roof and running in the gutters.

If you had told me two weeks ago that our grass would turn green again this summer, I would have scoffed. And yet after a week and a half of regular rain showers it looks like Goshen might recover from this drought (don’t worry–I’m knocking on wood).

But I know much of the region remains parched–whole swaths of countryside where storms continue to blow a few miles to the south or north, never where it is needed most.

Many friends and customers have asked after our animals and how they are faring in this hot and dry season. How does a drought affect small-scale livestock farmers like us?

Overall, we are doing fine. We need to keep an extra-close eye on all of the animals, making sure they have plenty of shade and cool drinking water.

On the hottest, driest days we kept our pigs healthy and cool by creating wallows for them: we bucket water onto bare earth so they can make a mess and cover themselves with mud. Their relief is evident–they immediately go from lethargic and panting to playful and curious.

We did lose some chickens to heat stroke when temperatures hit 104 degrees last month–a fate shared by many chickens across the region. We’ve adjusted our CSA schedule to compensate, and added more chicks to our orders to make sure we have plenty later in the season.

When we ran out of grass for the sheep in June, we moved them to fresh pasture at another location. And as I’m sure you’ve seen in your own lawn, grass is making a comeback since the rains–it’s incredibly resilient stuff.

But the major effects of the drought are yet to be seen. Our pigs and chickens are pasture-raised, but they eat non-GMO corn in addition to what they forage. Rumor has it corn prices will sky-rocket this fall, impacting food prices across the country. We shall see. For a long time we’ve been wanting to feed whey to our pigs (a regional cheese shop has nearly unlimited amounts available for a flat fee), so perhaps we’ll finally figure out how to pull that off, which would greatly reduce our feed costs.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for cooler temperatures, greener pastures, happier animals…and all the time I’m saving by not having to water the vegetable garden.

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