In the area I live we get about 11 inches of rain per year. My friend in Oklahoma can get that much at their place in a couple of days! This year we got 5 1/2 inches. Half of normal and normal isn't much. On a normal year my pasture can grow waist high. I have the back sectioned off into four (sort of five) separate pastures. Plus there's the front pasture. On a good year the animals can get rotated through each pasture and I don't have to supplement with any food.
Now that doesn't mean I don't buy hay for the animals. I usually buy 5-10 bales a year and give them a flake or two per day during the winter. I just feel bad for them because they have to get wet and stand in the cold. I know they are animals but it's nice to spoil them! This year I will probably have to buy two bales per week for the entire winter. If winter lasts for three months then that would mean about 25 bales. Right now bales are about $15 for a little over 100 pound bales. That's about $375 for the winter. Perhaps I'd be better off feeding less and butchering more? Or selling off a few more?
I just opened up the third pasture. The fourth looks just like the third. They should be waist high of delicious grasses. They aren't. I'm lucky if the pasture averages 6 inches. No, probably closer to four. The two pastures will be completely eaten down to nothing by the end of September. We normally don't get rain until November. Then everything will grow for a month before it all dies from the cold.
When the flowering mulberry trees drop there leaves we will have enough food to probably last a month. It's amazing how much food those trees produce. That's why they were initially grown out west. Not only to provide shade but to feed the cattle. Once the trees get established they don't need to be watered as they will be supported by the high water table we have here. The fruiting mulberries also produce a lot of leaves for the animals but even when full grown they'll only produce about half the amount of food.
Using up all the mulberry leaves and still running out of pasture before winter means it may cost me $500 for hay. That's too much and I'll soon be making the decision to butcher or sell. Only three or four sheep will fit into the freezer. I can do some canning of the meat and also drying. Still, if I have 11 sheep and I only want to keep four or five through the winter I will either be doing lots of canning and drying or lots of selling. I think I will put an ad out to get some sheep sold. Since I know I need to there's no sense in feeding them my dwindling pasture for the rest of the summer!
This fall, when the pastures are done I'm going to have someone come in and rip the pastures. That will help renew them. My neighbor did that with theirs and they got grasses over a foot high. Still not great but much better than mine!
Let's look at this from a prepping viewpoint. In bad times I won't be able to run out and buy hay. Perhaps it can be bartered, but nobody around here has old fashioned large equipment. Or animals to pull the equipment for that matter. I'm running too many animals because during drought I can't support them.
Also, they are the wrong type of animals. I need some sheep because they eat the thistle that other animals don't. I should probably cut back on sheep and instead get a few goats. The goats are better dairy providers. Sure the sheep will provide dairy but not my sheep. They are about impossible to get near, even bottle fed sheep forget who you are. Goats are like dogs. They want to be your friend! So perhaps if I get rid of most of the sheep and then during the winter when people don't want to buy hay (mine will already be in the barn) I can pick up some inexpensive goats.
I actually like goat meat better than sheep meat so why am I running so many sheep? It looks like half are about to go away.