Winter’s Dearth

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Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

As we are passing the middle of January, it is clear that we are in the middle of the winter dearth.

Dearth – noun: a scarcity or lack of something.

I learned this word when I was learning about beekeeping. It is a term that I’ve heard several times in beekeeping circles as it refers to a time when there is neither nectar nor pollen for bees to gather. Bees face this scarcity each winter, and in some locations, during the hot, dry summers when nothing is blooming.

Beekeepers know that their hives should enter the winter months with plenty of pollen and honey stored. And if they think their hives are low, they can (and should) supplement accordingly or risk having a hive starve to death,

Cattle producers know all about winter scarcity. Stockmen of all manner are now feeding hay for the winter months. The excellent pasture grasses that sustain herds spring thru fall, simply do not grow during the winter months. In some years when summer droughts get really severe, cattlemen have had to feed hay in the summer as well. Our wonderful warm-season pastures just do not grow under lengthy hot and dry summer conditions.

Other critters besides livestock and honeybees are currently experiencing a dearth as well. With all the acorns gone and several weeks to go until spring green-up, many wildlife species are facing shortages. Depending on their location, wildlife were either able to store up enough food (squirrels for example) or they are fortunate enough to live in an area where hunters have planted winter food plots to sustain the nutrition needs of the popular white-tailed deer.

An older publication about supplemental food plots for white-tailed deer has a graph that clearly shows utilization of a white-tail’s diet on established food plots. The first time each year they rely on food plots is January thru March and the second time is from late June thru August. During these two time periods, there is a lack of tender, nutritious plant material for animals to harvest.

Landowners everywhere may notice an increase in feral hog damage during these times of dearth. Hogs are omnivores and look in a variety of places for food. When times are tough and the ground is soft from our frequent winter rains, hogs will tear up ground looking for grubs, worms, or any plant material with a tuberous/ nutritious root system.

While damage can be extensive, the silver lining is that hogs are easier to trap now than perhaps any other time of the year. Currently, I am conducting trials to see what the most favored bait for feral hogs is.

I know that right now, hogs will take about anything placed in front of them, but I’ll keep you posted on the results.

The current winter dearth is not unexpected. It is a regular occurrence each winter and in some summers. Preparing for it is a part of animal husbandry and wildlife stewardship. It is a great word to have in your vocabulary and can help us be better stewards of the world around us.

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