Samantha Sullivan/Mustang News

In the past, Cal Poly has been able to get away without supplementing feed to cows at all, Lazanoff said. But during drought years, they have to cut their numbers.

Jessica Burger
Special to Mustang News

Having 80-degree weather in January is not without consequences, and the record-setting drought is hitting Cal Poly’s agriculture department hard.

Director of beef operations at Cal Poly Aaron Lazanoff said because there is no rainfall, there is no grass to feed the cattle.

“We have had to supplement their feed with hay, which we don’t normally do,” Lazanoff said. “We usually try to have the right number of cattle that our ranches will support without supplemental feeding.”

In the past, Cal Poly has been able to get away without supplementing feed to cows at all, Lazanoff said. But during drought years, they have to cut their numbers.

Because Cal Poly has had to purchase hay in order to feed the animals, the issue has become an economic one. Six tons of hay, at $250 per ton, are required to feed the 300 cow and calf pairs that live on the Cal Poly campus every day.

“How long are we going to feed hay? Until we have to sell everything out?” Lazanoff asked. “The issue has become a financial one.

“Last year was no good, and this year we haven’t had any rain,” he added.

In the past, the profit Cal Poly made from selling “grass-fed beef” has gone to help some of the less profitable programs in the animal science department, Lazanoff said. But, the chances of making a profit this year, are “pretty slim,” he said. “In fact, it’s not gonna happen.”

The Swanton Pacific Ranch, located in Santa Cruz County, is also feeling the effects. Though they usually have an enterprise program every year for students, they will not be able to this year.

It’s the first time the program has been cancelled since the ranch was donated to Cal Poly 27 years ago.

Brian Dietterick, the ranch director, works with the students who come to live and work on the ranch for the program every year. He said the conditions are the worst they’ve ever been.

“For the first time since we began running the program, we have not been able to have these cattle come in when they usually do,” Dietterick said.

The program was officially cancelled this past Wednesday.

“We’ve known for weeks that if things didn’t improve, we would have to make this decision,” Dietterick said.

The program usually hosts 500 cattle for the growing season. They are imported to the ranch every year from Hawaii, and stay from late January until June. The cattle are measured upon entry and exit to the usually green pastures at the ranch, and, traditionally, a profit comes from the weight the cattle gain.

“If it’s this bad, it is not even feasible to bring these cattle in,” said Dietterick. “But we do still have our resident herd of cattle.”

Back at home, Cal Poly is planning to meet with city and water officials about the university’s water usage in the next few months. Director of agricultural operations Kevin Piper said the school will meet with the city water manager of San Luis Obispo and management from Whale Rock Reservoir in the next few months.

According to Piper, the campus gets it’s water resources from Whale Rock Reservoir, located near Cayucos. The water is piped down to the city water plant to be treated, and the city plant then distributes treated water to campus for domestic purposes, as well as filling up the school’s agricultural reservoir.

Piper, who manages the water resources in the school’s agricultural reservoir, said the school then distributes the water for irrigation use at the school.

“Everybody has been thinking about it and wondering what we are going to do,” Piper said. “At this state in the game, the city and Whale Rock Reservoir management have not placed any stipulations on the university, but we are going to have talks on how we are going to manage that resource for this coming year.”

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