Spring rains that soaked the state have made all the difference for California cattle ranchers.
After months of dry weather brought little grass growth to sustain their herds, ranchers agree that range conditions have greatly improved.
This comes at a time when a nationwide shortage of beef cattle, worsened by last year's drought in Texas, has kept cattle prices high and ranchers wanting to expand their herds in hopes of getting in on the robust market.
Ching LeeGenerous rainfall in March and April improved pastures and stock ponds for cattle, but rancher Chuck Bacchi, who runs some of his cattle on this property in Sacramento County, says warming temperatures with no additional precipitation will hurt further grass growth. Chuck Bacchi, who runs cattle in El Dorado and Sacramento counties, said the market currently signals ranchers to retain their heifers and build their herds, but whether they can do so will depend on the weather and feed availability.
"It's record-high cattle prices," said Stanislaus County rancher David Absher, "but if you can't put any gain on (the cattle), you don't get to participate in that."
If the state hadn't gotten the substantial rainfall in March, Calaveras County rancher Nic Valente said he would have been moving his cattle to their summer pastures a week ago, more than a month earlier than normal.
"March rains were a savior to us," he said. "A simple two good weeks of rain have changed the whole year from here on out."
Not only has the increased moisture helped ranchers up and down the San Joaquin Valley, he said, but the improved snowpack means a better season for those who rely on irrigation water for summer pastures. He said while the last few storms won't keep creeks running all summer, they have helped to restore his stock water.
"The biggest concern in our area is having enough water in reservoirs that holds you over until you come back for their summer feed in the fall," Valente said.
Jon Dolieslager, a livestock broker and owner of Tulare County Stockyard in Dinuba, said before the "miracle March rains" came, many of his rancher-customers from Fresno to Ventura were planning to liquidate about 50 percent of their herds because they were running out of feed.
He pointed out that California took in "thousands of cattle" from drought-stricken Texas last year but has since sent many of those animals back when Texas finally got rain and conditions here dried up. And while the Golden State remains below its average annual rainfall, Dolieslager said "the outlook for California ranchers is a lot different this month than it was last month."