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Why is rainfall important to you as a cattle rancher?
Rainfall affects the soil composition and drives what forages are available in certain areas of the ranch. Right now, we’re growing Texas fillery, and through early spring the cattle even graze on most weeds that would be unpalatable later on. They'll take advantage of them when they are short and tender, but then as these weeds start to mature they will back off of them and go back to these more lush type forages. The grass will play a larger factor later in the spring as we go, as the stuff here starts maturing and then drying up. If it will back off and get cool, the fillery will stay green clear into June. We had a decent amount of winter moisture. We had some late summer and fall rains which build soil, built the moisture content up for us. And we are fortunate in this year that we've got a Spring. The last four years here we have not had one. I need the rainfall, just hasn't been here.
Skyler shows us Texas Fillery.
Weather directly affects our livelihood down to its very core. And if we don't take care of the ranch and take care of the ground that we've been given to take care of, there’s nothing for us to be able to put on it to produce an income. At the very core of what we do it is taking care of the environment, so that this is here for the next generation and the next generation behind that.
If you had more neighbors doing CoCoRaHS measurements, what would be the benefit to you in terms of building a larger weather pattern?
You know, one thing with getting more producers on board, whether they are ranchers, cotton farmers, even just wildlife guys, if they had a rain gauge there to help collect this data it just creates more data points for everybody as a whole and it's accessible by everybody. The unique thing is this is volunteer driven, anybody can do it. Nothing against the National Weather Service, but there's only so much that they can do and there are only so many of those weather stations that they can collect that data from.
It's pretty easy to have one rainstorm dump one inch (on this end) of this ranch and not get anything on the far west end of this because of how the rainfall came, or the weather pattern as it moved across the ranch. So if there's more of these CoCoRaHS gauges around, it's easier to see the weather pattern instead of one National Weather Service station that collects the rainfall at one station 30 miles away.
Give us an example of a time you used CoCoRaHS data?
It helps you to be able to know at the end of the year, by looking back, that yes, this was an average year, or that this was a below average year. If it was a below average year, we're going to have to de-stock going into winter, we’re going to have to thin out the cow herd down to where we aren’t overgrazing or abusing. Or on the other side of that, yeah we had an abnormal year because we received more moisture, spring’s going to be good, let's figure out how we're going to be able to take advantage of that coming into spring, whether that's buying a few more cows to turn out or turning out some yearlings to take advantage of what we've been given.
To what extent does CoCoRaHS help you become a better rancher?
The thing that I get from CoCoRaHS that's unique for me is that it's easy to manage that data. It's not trying to remember to put it in a spreadsheet. It's in a neat easy-to-read format. And then it's easy to do every morning. To walk there to the rain gauge look at it and put it into the form that's provided for you, and then easily go back and look at a later date to see what the rainfall was and be able to correlate it to what you're actually seeing and doing today. Being able to compare that to last year where we received X amount of inches of rainfall that year, and here’s kind of what these pastures did. Here’s what the tank conditions were like and here’s how the cattle held up; to be able to build a rough plan based on data that was created last year to help you. So that you're not reinventing the wheel every year. You can use old data to kind of build this year and see what the rain is doing, roughly what this what this year is going to look like.
CoCoRaHS helps you to build your own weather patterns. You look at these clouds today and know whether or not they are going to produce anything, instead of “maybe they will,” typically by collecting that data. Coming from a long line of ranchers and cloud watchers, you've already got that built into you but it helps put some structure behind that to understand how all of this works together to create a livelihood for yourself.
(Watch our web special “Cowboy CoCoRaHS” video to learn more about Skyler and the way he uses weather data.)