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Montana Ag Network: Cattle ranchers feeling the effects of winter drought

Cattle ranchers feeling the effects of winter drought
Posted at 8:32 AM, Nov 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-21 10:32:26-05

A Triple Dip La Nina weather pattern calls for another dry winter season. A system that brought late season rain throughout the summer months, not enough to pull Montana out of a never-ending drought.

Montana cattle ranchers like DeBruycker Charolais are feeling the effects as winter approaches.

“The water supply can be an issue in certain areas too because the springs going dry and that kind of thing,” said Brett DeBruycker, a pure breeding rancher of Charolais cattle in Choteau.

It’s been a headache for ranchers to battle a poor year for hay, grazing pasture, and water.

“Besides getting through in the summer, trying to find enough grass and water. You know, this winter, as dry as we were, we don't have much fall grazing.”

Brett DeBruycker

For DeBruycker, fall and winter grazing for his herd has been sparse. A portion of his herd is sitting in a feed lot north of Choteau, causing more out of pocket expenses.

“ the winter, when it gets cold like this, it's pretty hard to haul water. And it's hard to haul water in the summer, too. As a matter of fact, it's just, you know, it's just not a viable option. But in the winter, you're pretty much just need to find somewhere with some water. And the sad part of that is, you know, you might be leaving grass that you do have available elsewhere because you don't have any water there. And you might have to, you know, stay too long on the areas where you do have water.”

Aquasource Drilling in Great Falls deals with water system issues throughout the winter months. A big problem producers face is frozen water systems.

Tyrel Hlavnicka, Owner of Aquasource Drilling says, that they’ve received zero to no calls on freezing water systems, but it has only recently begun to reach wintertime temperatures.

“Check your systems out ahead of time before they freeze. That's the biggest advice.”

Tyrel Hlavnicka

He says what a lot of people don’t understand is that when the snow flies, it doesn’t fix an already dry situation.

“…the winter months and a lot of people, because of the snow on the ground, a lot of people don't realize just how dry it can be. The winter is some of the driest time of year for the groundwater because it's all frozen up here. It's not down in the ground.”

Drilling new or deeper wells is one solution for those struggling with wintertime water. It’s important to note that the water below the surface doesn’t freeze, it’s when the water is pumped to the surface, pipes, tanks, and pressure systems can be frozen solid, burst, or pressure systems can malfunction.

If any of that happens it’s no easy fix.

“A short, simple visit might be a few hundred dollars if it's something real simple for us. And it just quit working. Or if things were left unattended for all last winter and never drained and nobody ever checked in on it, it might be a whole new install, which might be 10,000 bucks.”

A $10,000 bill to fix a water system isn’t always in the budget for producers, but Hlavnicka shared a Winter Water System checklist to avoid a potential problem:
· Check pump houses ahead of time.
· Check pump houses that they are properly insulated to ensure that minimal cold air is entering the system and freezing pipes.
· Check pressure systems.
· Check stock water heaters and catch problems before it’s too late.

Being proactive is a start to resolving an issue that won’t be fixed overnight. DeBruycker calls state and federal lawmakers (State Senators and State Representatives) to action, to take the drought serious.

“It’s important that our lawmakers, our senators, and representatives, both at the state level and at the national level… they need to understand the dire situation that we're in right now in not only this area of Montana, but also the western United States. And, you know, it's pretty important that we keep this cow herd intact as best we can.”

Cattle ranchers feeling the effects of winter drought

The Montana Department of Agriculture currently has no drought aid within its system. We reached out for information on how they might be helping livestock producers, and they said that their county/region needs to be determined a disaster.

To act as a producer and contact federal and state officials follow to resources below:

Senator Jon Tester, D – Montana: 119 1st Ave N #102, Great Falls, MT 59401
· Phone: 406-452-9585

Senator Steve Daines, R – Montana: 104 4th St N #302, Great Falls, MT 59401
· Phone: 406-453-0148

Rep. Matt Rosendale, R – Montana: 410 Central Avenue Suite 407, Great Falls, MT 59404
· Phone: 406-770-6260 Rep. Ryan Zinke, R – Montana:

To contact state Senate and House member visit: