Ranchers in Owyhee County, Idaho, are feeling the heat — and the drought.

“She’s pretty tough right now as far as that goes,” said Lynn Bachman, who manages Bachman Land and Livestock near Bruneau.

The July 22 U.S. Drought Monitor pegged conditions in the large, high-desert county in the southwest corner of Idaho as moderate in the north and severe in the south and east. Extreme drought persists on the eastern edge.

“At least in several areas of Owyhee County, we are starting to run out of grass,” said Scott Jensen, a University of Idaho Extension livestock educator. “So that feed supply is definitely on the low side now.”

The hay market is tightening.

“Other drought-affected areas of the West are buying up hay to try to meet their needs,” the Marsing-based Jensen said. “What’s going on across quite a bit of the West is impacting us here.”

He said a local hay producer recently sold an entire crop, not notably high in quality, to a Nevada customer for about $200 a ton, up from $130-$140 a year ago.

Cattle grazing on winter range also may find slim pickings.

“With very limited spring moisture this year, and so far what’s been basically non-existent (rain) through summer, there is very little feed on those winter ranges for cows going into next winter,” Jensen said.

Ranchers are dealing with lower creek and spring flows in some areas.

Chad Nettleton, of Joyce Ranch outside Murphy, said he has seen creeks “drying up in July like it’s September.” And crews have had to haul water to some range where they typically do not.

“Feed density isn’t what it oftentimes is,” Nettleton said. Some cattle will move to get needed nourishment, “and others, if it’s not easy enough, will come back in worse shape.”

He is also seeing many more Mormon crickets than usual. They eat grasses including seed heads.

Joyce Ranch also faces drought-related challenges in lowland pastures to which Sinker Creek supplies irrigation water. Nettleton estimated flow at 65% of average.

“We’re probably looking at having to cut back on some cattle,” he said.

Bachman’s Bruneau-area cattle operation is irrigated by the free-flowing Bruneau River. Valley-wide this year, “we are only going to be able to deliver half the allocated acres of water,” and “half our acres in Bruneau are going to be dry for the next two months,” he said.

The river runs short of water most years. He expects it to run dry this year about a month and a half early.

“The last time it was this low, this early, was 1992,” Bachman said.

He also runs cattle near Mountain City, Nev. There, irrigation water from the Owyhee River was shut off July 20.

Adam Duckett of the Duckett Ranches feedlot in the Murphy-Melba, Idaho, area said October-December is the traditional busy period.

Now, many customers are asking to deliver a month earlier than usual.

“Guys are bringing them in earlier and shipping them lighter because they don’t have feed for them,” Duckett said.

He feeds some calves before buying them. Though he has water pumped from the Snake River, high heat likely will reduce his alfalfa and corn yields by more than 10%, he said.

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field reporter, SW Idaho and SE Oregon

I cover agricultural, environmental and rural issues in southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon. I can be reached at 208-914-8264 mobile or bcarlson@capitalpress.com.

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