I suppose that for anyone who has weathered an historically severe storm (or lack of storms, as the case may be), the memory of that climatological disaster is never far back in the recesses of memory. The farmers and ranchers who survived the Dust Bowl years were haunted by its memory. The farmers and ranchers who survived this year’s hurricanes will remember these events for the rest of their lives. These kinds of calamities are turning points and mileposts - life after will never be the same as life before. And so it is with my own memories of the 2012-2015 drought. It’s the event that has come to define my mid-life.
When people ask me how many sheep we have, I invariably compare the size of our operation today with its size before the drought. Before the drought, I thought of myself as a rancher who worked part-time in town. After the drought, I’ve become a full-time cooperative extension farm advisor with a part-time sheep operation. My experiences - selling sheep, scrambling to find grass, working more and more hours away from the ranch - make me conservative in my current approach to raising livestock. We run far fewer sheep than our rangelands will support in the best years (in other words, we stock our ranch for the dry years). We take much more time to estimate forage supplies and plan our grazing. We have a good idea about the sheep we’d keep and those we’d sell if we got into another drought. We are always on the lookout for new grazing opportunities.