Desert-like conditions are driving hundreds of cattle to slaughter because their owners are running out of feed.
Already stunted from a cold, dry spring, pastures and hay crops are wilting in the heat with little relief in sight during what is supposed the wettest month of the year.
Cows and calves that should be out on pasture are still on hay. Ranchers running short of hay are looking for alternative feeds, like pellets and protein blocks, for the animals they hope to keep.
Any hay that can be found has doubled in price from earlier in spring, while cattle prices are heading straight down, said beef producer Doug Sawyer, finance chair of Alberta Beef and chair of Alberta Farm Animal Care.
“We’re in a lot of trouble here. Right here at Pine Lake, there’s spotty showers around us, but on our ranch, we’ve had virtually no rain. Our grass just hasn’t come at all. In fact, it’s burning off.”
Sawyer is rotating his cows through pastures where the grass had been left to grow, but it’s rapidly disappearing.
“I’m a grass farmer, so I’ve got lots of land. But, without it growing, they’re just gobbling up what was left there.”
Without a good solid rainfall, Alberta’s cattle industry faces long-term devastation through the loss of breeding animals now being sold off, said Sawyer.
“There’s some awful good cows coming to town and . . . heading to the plant. That’s a concern to me. We continually see valuable cows heading to our kill plants.”
It takes years to rebuild a herd after those animals are lost, he said.
Hay grower Don Allan from Sylvan Lake said conditions are poor at his place and get steadily worse going east.
Although all of his hay has been sold, Allan has been digging up hay from other producers and shipping it to the eastern areas of the province, where the only green is at the sides of the highways.
He said his first cut for this year is behind and will have poor yields.
A shower on Monday night helped a bit, but a longer and more general rain is badly needed.
“Two inches of rain would be wonderful. But anything that comes our way, we’re thankful for,” said Allan.
Environment Canada meteorologist John McIntyre could offer little hope for farmers looking for more rain.
“I have talked to quite a few farmers today. There are a lot of them sounding fairly desperate in Alberta and Saskatchewan.”
Normally, June rains are delivered on the back of low-pressure systems coming through B.C. from the Pacific Ocean.
“We haven’t seen it this year at all. We’re just getting the odd thunder shower here and there. That’s not helping out that much.
“There is one weather system forecast to go through Alberta on Wednesday and Wednesday night. It looks like it will drop some light rain.”
With June half over, McIntyre said there is still a chance for a low-pressure system or two to move through in the next couple of weeks.
But they don’t normally occur in July and August. The long-range forecast shows above normal rainfall in the southern third of the province during July and August, but little relief for Red Deer and north.