South Florida is experiencing perfect Chamber of Commerce weather — beautiful blue skies and cool breezes. It's extremely dry, however. While our tourists are happy, the agriculture community is stressed. Anyone with cattle or crops is very concerned about the water shortage.

Hopefully, a good rain will reach us soon. The few locations that have received the moisture are greening up and starting to grow. Others of us haven't been so fortunate.

As crazy as it may sound, I am hoping for a hurricane this year. Not a real big one, but one that would bring the water table back up for our area and bring some relief.

It may seem crazy, but it is what we really need. A few scattered showers have given us a little break, but they have not solved the problems. South Florida is still under mandatory water restrictions and pumping orders. The most recent report claimed our area has a 50-in. deficit in rainfall from previous years.

This is serious because it can lead to salt water intrusion due to our proximity to the coast. Our cattle are watered by a system of drainage canals. Usually the canals are replenished every few weeks in the winter and early spring by cold fronts bringing rain.

Most of these canals now have only puddles remaining. We have resorted to drilling several new surface wells to provide water for the cattle. It was costly but a necessity.

This year has been unusually dry and unseasonably cold. Area ranches had seven or eight hard frosts this year, which is extremely rare in our part of Florida.

Between the frosts and drought our grass supply is completely gone. We almost never run out of grass and usually sell all of our hay. This year we kept 90% of our hay to feed.

I'm sure many producers from colder climates hold little sympathy for our situation. But, in our defense, we do not adjust our stocking rates for winter conditions because we rarely need to do that. This year has been a tough lesson for us in feeding hay and rotational grazing.

Fires And Alligators

Wildfires have added more anxiety to this challenging time. On average, we have battled one blaze per week. Fires are extremely dangerous this time of year due to the strong sea breeze off the Atlantic. These breezes last most of the day, only dying down at night.

The fires coupled with drought make for a scary situation. We've already lost much-needed pasture to fire. The only upside is the green, tender, nutritious grass that comes in with a little moisture.

Ranchers aren't the only ones hurt by the lack of rain. The resident alligators are affected, too. Many of their dens have gone dry, and this means they must relocate and search for food.

Several times in the last few weeks while checking pastures, I have seen gators making their way through the cows in search of water. As a general rule, gators are not a large threat to our calves, but extreme conditions call for extreme measures.

So, this time of year we must pay attention to larger gators that could pose a threat to our livestock or us.

Another odd twist this time of year, and a serious problem, are buzzards. They can be a real detriment to our calf numbers if not controlled.

The buzzards migrate south in the winter in huge numbers and prey on our calves. If a cow has a problem calving, the buzzards will try to kill her and the calf.

Buzzards are amazingly aggressive. I've seen three or four pecking at a young calf's face and a few pulling on it's tail trying to bring it to the ground.

We must acquire special permits to control buzzards because they're endangered. Buzzard control is not a fun job!

Every U.S. ranch operation has tough seasons; late winter and spring are ours. We always manage to make it through, and I am sure this year will be no different. So, while we are waiting on the summer rainy season, we will continue to process calves and prepare for shipping in mid- and late summer.

At least prices are up, and that makes everything a little easier to handle.

Mary Anne Cruse, her brother Wes, parents and grandparents operate Ru-Mar Inc., a large commercial cow/calf operation in South Florida.