Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Swiftsure Ranch Tackles Lack of Water, Hay Price Hikes
Two of Swiftsure Ranch’s 19 horses grazed on semi-green pastures in May—before abnormally high temperatures dried the grass out.
Saturday, July 17, 2021



Hay shortages and price hikes predicted

 Don’t worry about the horses going hungry at Swiftsure Ranch Therapeutic Equestrian Center due to the ongoing drought--yet.

The ranch’s irrigation pond never filled up all the way.

Thanks to two generous donors--the Boswell Family Foundation based in Ketchum and the Eccles Hayward Foundation--the program’s 19 horses will have enough hay to eat this year.

Swiftsure Ranch intended to be self-sufficient and grow enough grass hay on its 191 acres south of Bellevue to feed its herd this year. But due to the ongoing drought, the local irrigation supply was shut off completely in mid-June, compared to July 3 last year.  The result: a short growing season and skimpy yield. 

Executive Director Paul Bennett said that per the ranch’s junior water rights, the water was turned on April 15. But when it was turned off on April 21, the ranch’s irrigation pond wasn’t full.  A special request led to turning the water back on “for a bit.”

In the end, the ranch made 80 bales of hay, or less than three tons. Last year the ranch made 17 tons of hay.

Kept well fed, horses like Hoppy provide invaluable services to Swiftsure’s clients, like Noah.

Bennett says he needs 40 tons to feed the horses for a year, and “with good water in a normal year we should be self-sufficient” to grow enough for the herd.

He’s extremely grateful for the support from the two foundations that have stepped forward to cover the extra costs of finding hay and transporting it. So far, a shipment of 14 additional tons has been secured in Hagerman.

With so many growers impacted by irrigation cutbacks, there’s already a shortage of hay in the area. Bennett says prices that used to be $180 or $200 a ton are now  $225 to $250 a ton, and “folks are predicting it could reach $400 a ton.”

It’s vital to keep the horses well fed because they act as giant therapists for the  free equestrian-based activities and therapy the nonprofit Swiftsure offers to children and adults facing physical, cognitive, behavioral and/or social challenges.

When Blaine County opened up its COVID-19 restrictions, so did the ranch. Bennett says programs are running at close to 95 percent capacity this summer, serving 92 participants each week.
“There’s an ever-greater need for our services,” Bennett said. “For everybody it’s been an incredibly challenging year.”

But he’s optimistic about the future because help has also arrived in another form – governmental assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We’re in a very lucky position because we’re a nonprofit. We get in as a beginner farmer,” he said.

The agency is advising the ranch on water line improvements, designing the system to be more efficient by switching from watering guns to wheel lines in the pastures and adding moisture meters.

Due to irrigation and equipment shortages, installation has been postponed to August, and Bennett estimates it could take a couple of months to complete.

Some 140 junior water users in the Bellevue triangle recently had their groundwater access restored after having it cut off earlier. But Bennett says he doesn’t know anybody who is going to get any more water.

“As far as I am aware, this year is done,” he said. “Everybody’s worried…they’re receiving about 20 percent of their irrigation needs. Will we have enough to grow next year?”

~  Today's Topics ~

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Doctors Urge Vaccinations as Hospitals Fill

Blaine County Education Foundation Gears Up for School Year






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