(c) Jack Ballard
All across eastern Montana and southward to Texas, ranchers are dealing with a hay shortage. Severe drought and wildlife have left pasture with little for cattle to eat, requiring some ranchers to use supplemental feed at a time when cattle would normally be grazing on open range. Here in Montana, hay prices have nearly doubled in two months, with prices expected to increase even further as winter approaches. But without hay, cattle are unable to survive the winter in the harsh climates of the Rocky Mountains and northern plains.
But it’s not only cattle that survive the winter on hay. Up in the alpine zone of the Rockies, a curious little creature called the pika also eats hay. Throughout the summer, pikas cut grass with their teeth, then cache it into larders beneath the extensive boulder fields in which they like to live. Sharp-eared hikers can often catch sight of a pika by listening for their high-pitched barks that they emit when alarmed.
However, pikas aren’t the only animals that “store” food. Beavers sink branches of trees into the water around their lodges which are eaten during the winter. In my neck of the woods, American red squirrels (pine squirrels) cache pine nuts in large heaps that the feed upon during the snowy season. Some birds, such as red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches secret nuts and seeds in cracks and crevices in tree trunks that are consumed when food is scarce.
Like farmers who put up hay and grain to feed cattle in the winter, some species of animals store their own food for consumption during the cold months of the year. Let’s hope their harvest is more bountiful than that of my state’s two-legged farmers.