I slow my truck as I drive through the dust. The chalky, white fog hindering my vision was left by a vehicle almost a half a mile in front of me. Is it a car or truck? I can't tell. The dust hangs in the air, limiting my vision and seeping into my cab.
Ahead I can make out the turn into the lane of our lower barn. The feedlot and grain are stored here. I make the turn and am greeted by the relief of not eating someone else's dust. This sudden clarity of vision allows me to see smoke coming from the vicinity of my machine shed at the end of the lane. I step on the gas and create a plume of dust for an eighth of a mile, expecting the worst. I am relieved to find that the "smoke" is just darker dust stirred up by the calves in the feedlot.
My eyes are irritated and itching as I look into the pen. A few of the newly weaned 500 pound calves have pinkeye. A couple have watery eyes, but more than a few are coughing. This dust is getting to be more than an annoyance. It is becoming downright unhealthy. Stress created by these conditions can increase the rate of many illnesses, including pneumonia. To offset the risk in the already stressed calves, they are getting some antibiotics mixed in with their feed.
It has been another month since we have received any measurable rainfall. I picture the well linked to the feedlot, and the springs that barely trickle into the creek in the cow pasture, drying up at any time. We have some deep ponds on the property, but moving our cattle to water also moves them away from what little forage they can get at. Feeding additional hay at this time is a costly move.
When putting up hay, you try to figure how much you will feed per day during the winter, and more importantly, for how long. How long is always the tricky question. Will it be from October to April? Not this year. As I stacked the last of our hay in June, some went to feed the foraging cows. To multiply several tons by an extra 120 day feeding window is a humbling experience.
It has been about 6 chances of rain since a drop has landed on the place. The guy on the radio says it is going to happen today or tomorrow. Checking the radar, I see the all to familiar rainfall several counties away and moving the wrong direction. For now, we hope. Many itchy, irritated eyes will be watching the sky today. Another day in the drought of 2012.