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Farmers struggling with unusually wet weather


IMG_6030Following a period of below-average rainfall in the state, this month’s excessive precipitation across the area has proven to be detrimental to local farmers.
According to the National Wester Service, southwest Arkansas had received over six inches of rain through March 13, three to four times the common amount. Since then, even more precipitation has fallen and more is expected.
One of the major causes of agricultural struggle that results from the weather is something that may seem only like a minor annoyance to those who do not farm: mud. Cattle and poultry farmer Kirk Bell noted that abnormal amounts of mud is creating unhealthy cattle and costly problems on property.
“It’s causing a lot of wear and tear on equipment and it’s going to cost a lot of money to get dirt to smooth out the ruts and get gravel to put around the gates,” he explained.
Bell also stated that weight loss has been a problem with bulls, heifers and calves because the thick, damp ground is more difficult for them to move about on and causes them to burn more calories than usual. Not only that, but because mother cows are struggling to get the proper nutrition they need, nursing calves are as well.
In an attempt to combat these problems, Bell has had to feed his livestock extra hay, much of which gets trampled in the soft dirt, only adding to the expenses the muck has caused.
Bell has also lost several calves to pneumonia and other health defects that come from being born in the mud and wet weather. To keep the surviving calves healthy, he has to put out even more hay for their bedding.
The exertion of trudging through the heavy mud has exhausted cattle, which Bell says may cause them not to breed as they usually do.
Cattle farmers are not the only ones coping with the recent drastic conditions. Sheep raiser and quality grader at the Sheep and Goat Buying Station located in Hope Chris Sweat has both personally felt the effects and noted them at work.
“With the amount of rain, especially on the low ground, you tend to see more problems with foot rot if the sheep’s feet aren’t trimmed,” Sweat said.
This condition can be dually noted on cattle.
Sweat went on to explain that the wet and cold weather is “stressful on young lambs” and that nursing lambs won’t take milk from their mother if her udder is muddy.
“I’m really seeing that they don’t have the amount of fat they usually do,” he stated.
Much like Bell, Sweat is dealing with increased feeding costs. The sheep are also eating more because of their need for more energy and a fair amount of hay is inedible since the animals tend to strew it about into the mud. Not only that, but lambs have to be birthed on a bed of hay to prevent infections that can occur if mud gets in their umbilical chord.
Sweat remarked that sheep prefer dry climates. The wet tends to cause more parasites among both sheep and goats.
There is a way in which the weather has created profit rather than expense to farmers, though it may be short lived. According to Sweat, “The weather has kept the prices up because people couldn’t get their animals to market. I think once the weather dries out, we’ll see an influx of sheep and goats and the prices will drop.”
Though precipitation has caused grass to grow, which Sweat noted as a plus, it has also inhibited the growth of weeds, and according to county extension agent Sherry Beaty-Sullivan, many farmers have not been able to spray for their winter weeds because of the mud.
Beaty-Sullivan also warned farmers to watch out for snails, which thrive in the damp. She stated that some snails carry a liver fluke, and because they are so small, they are easily overlooked in drinking water. If a cow ingests a snail, it can lead to a range of issues such a liver problems.
“Feed efficiency goes down, nursing and milk production goes down and small cows may not grow as well,” she elaborated.
Beaty-Sullivan encouraged farmers to get a liver fluke control when going about their spring worming on their livestock.
“It costs a little bit more, but you get more bang for your buck,” she said.

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