From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):
“The folks on the west side of the county have been hurt worse than anyone else,” said Wayne Semler, the recently elected president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association who runs cattle and farms south of Bayfield. He has shrunk his herd between 25 and 30 percent in the last couple of years. “With no irrigation, water tables dropping and springs drying up, they’re really struggling.”
The heavy rains last fall and a predicted El Niño weather pattern, which generally brings us moisture, may make this year a little better, he said.
“Last year’s snow melted into the ground because it was so dry, so there was no runoff” he said. “This year, at least, the soil moisture’s a little higher.”
Morley said rain this year is more critical than ever as the drought continues.
“We’re all praying for rain,” she said. “Tell people we all need to pray for rain.”[…]
Most cattle ranchers run cow/calf operations, where the calves are fattened up during the summer for market in the fall.
Some ranchers feed the heifers, or mama cattle, on their own land all year long, grazing in the pasture for the summer, feeding them hay grown in their fields during the colder months.
“We fed our cattle longer than normal,” Semler said about 2013. “And our hay last year, some fields we cut once, some none at all. We had a grasshopper problem, too.”
Other ranchers, like Brice Lee, whose ranch is south of Hesperus, move them from private pastures in New Mexico, where they’ve wintered the heifers, to private pastures in Colorado for the summer.
“Last year, we only got four days of water, when we normally get 30 to 40,” Lee said. “Most everybody’s had to adjust. We haven’t harvested hay in two years, and we haven’t had a lawn for several years because we didn’t want to waste the water.”
Still others winter the cattle on their own land, moving them during the summer to pastures in the mountains where they have grazing permits on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land.
More La Plata River coverage here.