Stanko said thunder means lightning and lightning can cause fires. He fears that he will have to sell half of his Routt County cows outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado, if he doesn't get enough hay to feed them.
Cattle ranchers feel the effects of the drought, which is threatening to worsen across the West. Some ranchers are forced to sell their animals because of lower hay yields. Ranchers often grow hay to feed their animals during winter, when the snow covers the grass they normally graze. This helps them avoid paying high feed costs.
Stanko's hay harvest this year is worse than last year. In heat waves and historically low levels of water in the Yampa River (his irrigation source), a single field produced only 10 bales.
Ranchers don't wait to feed fewer people.
Despite the fact that the peak season for the Loma Livestock Auction in western Colorado is in the fall, when most calves can be sold, sales were booming at the Loma Livestock Auction earlier this month. Ranchers are eager to sell their cattle while the market is still strong, which fuels the activity.
Buzz Bates, a Moab rancher, said that everyone is going to be selling their cows so it's smarter now than ever before the market gets saturated. He was selling 209 cow-calf pairs or 30% of his herd.
After a campfire set off in an abandoned campsite burned part of his pasture, Bates decided to trim the herd. This would have a negative impact on his ability to feed his animals.
Although weather has been an important factor in ranchers managing their land and livestock, these choices are increasingly focused on how drought-resistant herds can be, according to Kaitlynn Glover (executive director of natural resources, National Cattlemen's Beef Association).
George Raftopoulos (owner of the auction house) stated that if it rained four inches, there would be no cow to sell for five consecutive months.
Raftopoulos said that he encourages people not to part with their cows. He said that replacing them later might be more expensive than buying additional hay.
Cattle ranchers can find it difficult to manage herds. Culling herds often means selling off cows that have been selected for the best genetic traits for breeding. These cows are long-term investments that will pay dividends.
Jo Stanko was Jim's wife, and business partner. She noted that her cows were bred to withstand the extreme temperature swings in the region.
She said, "We live in very special places." "We need cattle that can handle high and low temperatures simultaneously."
The Stankos are looking for new ways to increase their ranching income as they reduce their herd. Offering hunting and fishing access on their land or winter sleigh rides is one option.
After they finish storing hay in September, the couple will be able to determine how many additional cattle they need. Although they hope to kill only 10, the couple is afraid that it could mean as many as 45 heads.
After a disappointing harvest, 21 heads were sold by the family last year. The crop this year is worse.
It's heating up with the heat. Jim Stanko stated that he couldn't cut the hay crop fast enough.