Dearth of rain takes toll on ranches and farms

Rex Williams' sheep normally are munching green grass in early December. But this year, one of the driest on record, the land he leases remains mostly brown.

"We planted our winter crop into dust, dry ground," Williams said. Hardly any grass germinated, so Williams has been forced to feed hay to his sheep months earlier than normal.

"It's scary; we've never been in a situation like this before," said Williams, who's been ranching about 23 years. "We've always had some grass to go to."

Facing these pressures, William and his wife expect they may have to reduce their herd of 400 ewes by as much as a third. They've already started selling off some of the weaker sheep.

The Williams aren't alone — ranchers around Sonoma County are grappling with the added cost of feeding their animals more hay earlier in the year because of the arid conditions and lack of grass. Some are watching their ponds dry up and wondering if they'll have to pay to truck in water for their animals to drink. All are hoping December rains will bring them some relief.

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