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Stories from the valley

A Gift

Contributed by Dan Macon

In late October, we experienced the most intense rainstorm I’ve ever experienced in the 54 years I’ve called the Sierra foothills home. Over the space of 72 hours, we measured over 8 inches of rain. Stock ponds and seasonal creeks that had been dry for a year suddenly filled. And the grass started to grow! But November saw us return to drier-than-normal conditions. We measured more than 400 percent of our average October rainfall; November saw just 53 percent of normal. And so, while our grass was off to a good start, and things were looking up, the dreaded “D” word began to creep back into our conversations. For those of us who rely on the grass that Mother Nature grows, timing is everything – we love germination in October, but without follow-up moisture, that fall grass withers and dies.

Fast forward to this week! Mother Nature has delivered an end-of-year gift – by the time this blog gets posted, we’ll likely have measured more than 4 inches of precipitation this week. The creeks that ran – and then quit – will be running again. The grass will keep growing!

Last December, our grass had barely started. We ran out of forage at our summer place the weekend after Thanksgiving, but we didn’t yet have enough green grass at our winter place to sustain the sheep. As a result, we fed hay – just enough to allow the pregnant ewes to digest the dry grass we had available. Thankfully, the added costs we experienced last winter were offset by a strong lamb market this summer, but feeding hay during a normally green time of year seemed unnatural.

This year, with the October storms, we were able to keep our sheep on our summer place until the second weekend of December (14 days longer than last year). And these follow up rains will mean we don’t need to feed any hay – we have plenty of grass to see us through till lambing in late February. The last 10 years of drought and deluge have taught me to take nothing for granted – January and February could turn dry, which would make lambing difficult. But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the gift of December rain!