Recent rain a small relief to Sonoma County ranchers

  • Jennifer Beretta of the Beretta Family Organic Dairy in Santa Rosa, feeds rye grass hay to the dairy's holstein cattle, Wednesday Feb. 12, 2014. The recent rains were a welcome relief to many, but ranchers are still supplementing feed for their herds with a lack of grass in pastures. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

For the first time in more than a year, the hills and pastures of Sonoma County are sporting a faint haze of green.

"We asked for it; we got it," said Santa Rosa rancher Doug Beretta, contemplating the astonishing fact that his fields have gone from tarmac-hard bare dirt to boot-sucking mud lakes in less than a week.

Between Friday and Sunday, rain fell in torrents over the region, dropping up to 15 inches in Sonoma County and 12 inches in Napa County. Santa Rosa got nearly 6.5 inches, coming close to equalling the total from all of 2013, just 8.7 inches.

Although area ranchers are still relying on imported feed to maintain herds that usually would be out on pastures, they say the rain has bought them some breathing room, refilling small ponds, recharging groundwater and promising at least some scrubby growth for pasturing livestock in the spring.

The rain didn't do as much for city folk. Water managers were quick to say that even such a monster rain fell far short of refilling the reservoirs that supply North Coast cities from Santa Rosa south to San Rafael. "It was not a drought buster," Sonoma County Water Agency spokesman Brad Sherwood said.

For the area's agricultural community, however, the soaking was met with a cautious cheer.

"It was a miracle rain for the North Coast," Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tim Tesconi said.

The effect was most pronounced for livestock ranchers, who have seen their grass-covered pastures turn to dust and their reservoirs dry out, promising an expensive year of buying feed and water on an increasingly frantic market.

"The rain was good. Period. Capital G, capital O's, capital D," said Sonoma rancher and grapegrower Ray Mulas.

The fields are beginning to green, he said, and springs in the hills are beginning to run again, promising the possibility of wild greens for livestock to munch on.

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