Water + Heat Units = A Green Spring

My favorite cowgirl and I headed down to our pasture ground last Sunday to search for grass.  Nebraska has been moisture deficient since early last summer and, in particular, the drought has greatly hurt the 23 millions acres of grass pasture that makes up more than half of Nebraska’s land mass.

Searching for grass...

Searching for grass…

While the vast majority of our land is crop ground, we do have approximately 600 acres of cool season grass pasture in the Platte River Valley.  Typically, we graze cattle on this land from April to Mid-June, and then again from August to October.  I purchase “light yearlings” or “fall calves” that weigh 600-650# to graze on this land.

We grow these animals on grass pasture until they weigh approximately 800#.  At that time (or at the time that all of the grass is eaten), we bring them into the feed yard to prepare them for harvest.

Typically, this light yearling would already be out grazing grass instead of at the feed yard...

Typically, this light yearling would already be out grazing grass instead of at the feed yard…

Today is the 2nd of May.  Normally, we have already turned cattle out to pasture and our cool season grass is lush and green.  This year the grass is very slow to grow due to two important variables: water and heat units.

After a very dry summer, fall and winter; we were blessed with almost 3 inches of rain (along with snow and ice) in April.  The rain brought life-giving moisture, but it also left behind very cold temperatures.  At the end of last week, we finally saw some warmth with highs in the upper 70’s but it did not last as we had snow again yesterday…

Closing a gate in between pastures...

Closing a gate in between pastures…It’s nice to have a helper along!

As Megan and I rode the pasture ground, I realized that I would not have grass to graze for several weeks yet.  While it is valiantly trying to turn green and grow, it is way behind normal.  The lack of carryover moisture combined with a dry winter and a cold spring have left Nebraska’s grasslands struggling.

Pure joy!

Pure joy!

I was glad to have my favorite cowgirl along as we traversed the pasture ground.  She was a bundle of sunshine laughing and telling stories from her week at school.  Her natural optimism is good for me and brings a smile to my face.  As we loaded up the horses and headed for home, I thought to myself that her positive nature plays a key role in the sustainability of my mental fitness!


Filed under General, Sustainable Spring

12 responses to “Water + Heat Units = A Green Spring

  1. Bill

    What is a ‘heat unit?’

    • Hi Bill,

      A “heat unit” is a farmer’s term for how much heat energy from the sun you receive. My favorite farmer measures it in “growing degree days” or how many days you have during a growing season where there is enough warmth from the sun to cause plants to grow and mature. It is just as critical for plant health as moisture.

      Good question!

  2. What a great morning out with your girl. Love the pic of her.

    • Thank you Cindy. We did have a wonderful morning out together. One of the best things about my life as a farmer is sharing it with my girls!

      I hope that all is well in New York,

  3. Reblogged this on Robin of Rockridge's Blog and commented:
    Oh, yeah! Another drought year for us too.

    • Thanks for reblogging my post, Robin! Yes, there is much of our cattle ranch country that is currently challenged by drought. We will persevere and endure!


  4. The enthusiasm and optimism of youth is inspirational!

    It was raining when I went to bed on Monday night and we got .40″. Tuesday was very windy. Yesterday and today have been beautiful, mid to upper 50’s for highs with sunshine.

    We have green grass in the draws and ditches. Looking across the prairie it’s still brown. No buds on the trees and I see that my Mother-In-Laws tulips have green leaves.

    We are getting ready to brand the two oldest bunches of calves early next week. Like you, we continue to pray for adequate moisture.

    • Great to hear from you, Robyn. I agree that our youth is inspirational–I know that my daughters’ optimism keeps me going when things get challenging!

      Good luck with spring chores. Like you, I pray for good weather.


  5. go megan i miss you so much i hope every ting is going good over there for you and your family. ❤

  6. Rex

    On our counter is a vase of beat up daffodils.
    Just finished an ag in the classroom letter with a photo from 2011 showing cows grazing 10″ tall cereal rye and a photo from the same date this year with cows in a lot with the 2″ tall field of rye in the background.
    Here is to Spring, whenever it comes.

    • Yes, here’s to spring—it is welcome to show up at any time!

      Great to hear that you are involved with the Ag in the Classroom program–our family participates as well and I believe that it is a tremendous outreach program for youth. Thanks for donating your time!


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