Managing Through the Drought Back »

Cattle in pasture in Tripp county, July 2017. Courtesy: V. Stuart


As drought conditions continue to expand and worsen through the Dakotas and Montana, ranchers are faced with the stress and challenges of making the best decisions for their operations. There are multiple factors that play into the decision-making process, with some being more challenging than others. One of the factors that makes this process more difficult at times is being able to separate the emotion from the business. Oftentimes we see the ranch as more than a business, but focusing on the basics of making decisions on what is best for the business will help persevere through tough times.

Tools & Resources

To make the best management decisions, it is important to utilize your resources and contacts to gather information and make the most informed decisions. There are multiple people who can help provide information, including fellow ranchers, ag lenders, veterinarians, and extension professionals, to name and few. SDSU Extension offers multiple tools and resources to provide information. Below is a listing of just a few that can be used in making the best drought management decisions for your operation.

Drought Management Publication

Drought Management Tips for Ranchers is a publication that compiles multiple resources on management decisions focusing on supply management, including feed resources, rotational grazing, water quantity and quality, to name a few. It also addresses demand management and decisions that can affect or decrease the demand for feed resources, such as early weaning, shortening the breeding season to only keep the most fertile females, and culling practices. Be willing to think outside the box to determine what will work best for your ranch and have a plan in place before drought happens again, so that you are ready and prepared to make those hard decisions.

Decision-Making Tools

On the SDSU Economics website there are multiple spreadsheets available for download that can assist in decision making. These include a Haul the Cattle Worksheet that allows you to compare hauling the cattle to feed versus hauling the feed to the cattle. Additionally, there is a Feed Nutrient Comparison Calculator that allows you to put the price, distance for trucking and feed analysis information in for various feeds and determine which is the cheapest option for you while meeting nutrient needs. There are also Livestock Budget templates to assist in determining what you can afford to pay for the other items in the spreadsheets.

Feed Testing Laboratories

During drought years, more than ever, it is vitally important to send forage samples to a lab for analysis. Many of you may be using different feeds than normal and being able to determine what additional feed or supplement needs to be added to the mix will be key for meeting nutrient requirements as well as making the smartest economic decisions. There is an iGrow publication, Feed Testing Laboratories, with information about where samples can be sent for analysis.

SDSU Extension Experts

As you are working through these decisions, don’t hesitate to contact one of the SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialists, State Beef Specialists, Livestock Business Management Field Specialists or Beef Feedlot Management Associate. Our professionals would be happy to visit about your situation and help work through any problems you are having. You can reach SDSU Extension experts using the information below:

Cow/Calf Field Specialists

State Beef Specialists

Livestock Business Management Field Specialists

Beef Feedlot Management Associate

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