Farmer Robert Helvey walks accross what used to be a six-foot-deep pond on a farm off near Tri-Cities Regional Airport. Because of the drought, the cattle on the farm had to be moved. Photo by Erica Yoon.
The water in Bowman Creek still flows — a rare sight in Sullivan County considering the lack of rain.
But livestock farmer Robert Helvey knows time is not on his side.
“I’ve already had to move cattle to a farm I just got in Greene County because I’m running out of hay here,” said Helvey.
Traditional sources of water like wells, springs and creeks are beginning to evaporate, according to Sullivan County Extension Agent Chris Ramsey, leading cattle to be sold at area markets and farmers considering an uncertain future.
The National Weather Service says last month was the driest on record, with only 0.37 of an inch of rainfall recorded for all 31 days.
The lack of rain has led the Extension Service to call a meeting for Wednesday at the Piney Flats Volunteer Fire Department at 6:30 p.m. to address water concerns with area farmers.
“Ample water is now down to a trickle, and the cattle are drinking it all, bringing about a lot of concern,” said Ramsey.
“Cattle can go days, even weeks without feed, munching on a leaf here and there, sustaining them. But seven days without water, they can die, making it more critical than available forage right now.
“If we go another two to three weeks or a month without rain, it will be just absolutely unbelievable how bad it will be. So we thought we would hold this meeting to see who has water and who will need it in the coming days.”
Helvey, who has nearly 100 head of cattle, has resorted to hooking up a hose to his utility water to refill dwindling ponds.
“I know I’m not the only farmer trying to figure out what to do with livestock right now,” the Muddy Creek community resident said.
“I’ve had to try and find better pasture since summer began. You have to get the animals feed and water, and we’ve been lucky that the creek is still going. Earlier, we took cows to market, the ones that were not pregnant or some other reason that we could not easily keep them.
“I fear that I’m going to have to go to market once more if things don’t get better. You’ve got to sharpen your pencil as they say, figuring out how much hay you’ve got and how you have to stretch the supply to meet the need of the cattle.”
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has received dispatches from farmers as far away as West Texas and Arkansas, where fields have received drenching rains, offering hay for sale to help cattlemen in the Volunteer State.
A database of hay distributors is accessible by visiting www.tnfarmbureau.org/index.asp?view=hayofferings or www.tnfarmbureau.org/hay/hay.htm to view hay sources available in Tennessee.
Locally, participating volunteer fire departments are working with county emergency service personnel to identify farms in need of water and transporting it via pumper tankers.
A spokesperson with the Warriors Path Volunteer Fire Department confirmed Monday that it is delivering water to farms free of charge to help replenish some ponds and tanks.
For more information on Wednesday’s meeting contact the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Office at 279-2723.