Saturday, October 25, 2014

Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch

Central South Dakota Drought Plan - Daybreak Ranch

Jim Faulstich with ranch sign.
Jim Faulstich of Daybreak Ranch. Image: http://huntdaybreakranch.com/

Ranch Location

Central SD

Operation

  • Cow-calf; commercial grazing for bred yearling heifers
  • Hunting operation
  • No-till farm
  • Family operation with daughter and son-in-law

Inventory

  • Average Annual Precipation - 18 inches
  • Western Wheatgrass/Needlegrass community
    • cool season dominant, warm season sub-dominant

Critical Dates

October 1st of the previous year – monitors moisture, amount of stockpiled forage, subsoil moisture

May 1 – monitors moisture

"If we don’t have good moisture by then, we know we’ve got trouble. Not that we can’t come out of it, not that we can’t manage around it. It just makes life a lot simpler if it’s wet May 1. And if we don’t have subsoil moisture, ...we know we’re up against the wall."


Monitoring Plan

Forage

"I like to see a year’s worth of forage on hand at all times. That may be from stored hay, that may be dormant grass, that may be green grass, but it’s still available on the ranch. So if we have a year and half’s worth, we’re in good shape, we can do more grazing. If we’ve got six months’ worth, I’m awful nervous."

Precipitation and Soil Moisture


Before Drought

"There’s very little that we do here in this operation that isn’t influenced by the fact that we are in such a dry area. Whether it’s the fact that we are a predominantly grass operation because we can handle drought in a grass situation better than if it was all farm ground, or the fact that we graze year round so we don’t need a lot of feed hopefully. Even the hunting we added in to be a little more diverse, be flexible."

Crops as alternative feed and forage, wildlife habitat

  • corn – can be used as silage if needed; green production and cover for wildlife; graze cornstalks through winter
  • cover crops on stubble ground for building soil quality, wildlife habitat, livestock grazing in the wintertime, controlling erosion
    • small grains, purple top turnips, oilseed radish, lentils, canola, rape, vetch, different legumes

Stockpile forage/hay

"We try to put up excess hay in good years and hopefully now use it. We’ve got three haysheds that we put hay in and let it set for years like last winter when we had to feed more than we wanted to, or a drought year when we didn’t have enough forage."

Stock conservatively

Custom graze yearling heifers

"We don’t need any feed for them. It’s a way of utilizing our early spring pastures, which this is predominantly cool season grass here, so we’ve got a lot of cool season grass. That’s when we need more numbers. "

"And how long we keep those heifers around depends on our moisture situation. We take them on a per-day basis. Our agreement is, with a two week notice, those cattle need to get out of here. Last year we kept them until October 11th approximately.   This year we’ve notified them they need to go home August 13th. So that’s a very nice flexibility valve in our cattle numbers that we have out there utilizing the grass."

Hunting operation

"There’s years when it gets dry enough that it seriously affects the wildlife, but year in and year out the wildlife still does well even if we are on the dry side."

Water development

"One of the important things that we’ve done as far as drought management is we’ve got well or rural water piped onto every pasture that we own or rent. We’ve had help from NRCS, EQIP and WHIP and watershed programs, wildlife programs such as US Fish & Wildlife."

Late calving

  • Cattle need less forage and lesser quality forage to get through winter

During Drought

Send custom grazers home

Sell cull cows

"We always identify cows that we can get rid of as our first priority. We weaned the calves as of today and sold those cows that we no longer want in the herd anyhow. It was just a matter of whether we sold them in June, July, or next October. Those cows are gone and that’s that much less feed that they’ll need. The calves are still on grass, but they’re not that big and won’t need that much, and we’ve eliminated cows that we didn’t want anyhow."

Use stockpiled hay and forage, cover crops and corn stalks, silage if available to feed core herd

Make decisions and do not second-guess


Lessons Learned

"We learned early on we had to deal with drought. Back in [the 1970’s] it wasn’t only a case of dealing with lack of feed but also water. We didn’t have any water, we didn’t have any tanks in the pastures, so we had to deal with water at our building site and that’s about all we had. Since then, and one of the important things that we’ve done as far as drought management is we’ve got well or rural water piped onto every pasture that we own or rent. That’s probably been the biggest one thing that we’ve done to help us out. Cause you’ve got to have water." 

"One of the things that’s really helped me is I’ve attended some holistic resource management classes that really deal with working with the land."


Recommendations

"1996... 2002... 2006, those are years where we probably never made a bale of hay. To me drought isn’t plan for those years, it’s a plan for every year that just leads you into those severe drought years in a lot better state to handle it. And a lot more prepared to handle it."

"We really shouldn’t call it a drought plan, we should call it a disaster plan. It could be the snow and ice last winter that we had, because I couldn’t graze; it could be a bad fire; it could be hail; it could be grasshoppers. There are a lot of reasons why you may not have enough forage out there other than drought. "

Get a whole ranch inventory

"The first thing I’d recommend… is to get a whole ranch inventory. Know what your livestock numbers are, what your feed needs are, and what you’re capable of producing. NRCS does that of course through their whole ranch planning." 

Find cost share program for water development and other development

"And then they can maybe direct an individual to a cost share program, say they need water development or grass seeding, cross fencing, that’s been a very important part of our operation, all three of those. But the water develop is probably the first and foremost for the average operation, to be able to water those cattle and distribute the grazing so that you can manage the grass, not just chew it all off in the riparian areas or where the well is or whatever." 

Concentrate on being flexible

  • Stockpiling hay, investing in water development and cross-fencing, calve later, include multiple sources of income   

Plan ahead

"You can’t wait until you are out of grass or everything is burned up to react to the situation. And that’s why I say it’s part of our planning and every day operation to deal with this. Because we can vary so much in moisture. And when it comes and how much." 

Consider holistic resource management training

"If you ruin your natural resources and the land, it really don’t matter if you survive the drought or not, you’re going to put yourself out of business. And so that’s an important thing to learn about if producers haven’t already." 

Jim Faulstich was the National Cattlemen's Beef Association 2009 Environmental Stewardship Award region VII winner administered by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and sponsored by Dow AgroSciences and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Congratulations Daybreak Ranch and the Faulstich and Roth families!

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