Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch

Nebraska Sandhills Drought Plan - Tippets-Myers Ranch

The Tippets-Myers Ranch
The Tippets-Myers Ranch

Operation

Cow-calf and bred heifer operation

Inventory

Mean Annual Precipitation - 14 - 17 inches

Plant Community - Prairie Sandreed/Sand Bluestem

  • warm season dominant, cool season sub-dominant, mid and tall grasses

Critical Date

July 1

  • June and July produce most growth of warm-season forages

Monitoring Plan

Forage Production and Condition

  • Uses SANDRIS

"Every time I ride through a pasture it gets evaluated."

"You can look out across pastures, they might look good, but you gotta be looking down. Plant density, plant composition." 

  • Take Photos

Precipitation Records

"It’s got to be simple. Keep it simple stupid!"


Before Drought

Rotation Grazing System

"We have a rest deferral every third year. Every pasture on our place gets rested sometime in three year period during the major growing season of every grass plant or plant. Our place is set up so that we can do that. 

Every pasture is never grazed more than a month out of the year. It’s always a different time of the year and it’s only grazed once. Pretty simple."

Sustainable stocking rate

"We don’t try to maximize how many cattle we put on there. We try to optimize what is sustainable over a 10 year period. And that’s our plan. In the good years we build lots of reserve [forage]. In the drought years we take off."

Plant Health

"We always leave at least 50% [residue]. The pastures that we went into early, they’re way over 50%. The early pastures will come back probably 65% of production."

"Our warm season [grasses] have well-developed roots.... It’s going to produce something...If you’ve got a good system, that also holds moisture longer."

Stockpile forage in pastures

"We build enough in the good years that we can stand a two-year drought. …One of Pat [Reece's] statements is, you’re either in a drought, coming out of a drought, or preparing for a drought. And with a good system that’s exactly what you do. In a good year you prepare for that bad year, and when the bad year quits, you’re building back…."

"We’ll probably leave 65%-70% [in pastures]. ...And we’ve got the hay to feed that we’ve carried over. We always keep about 20% that we could use as grazing in a drought year. Otherwise they are really stockpiled and used for calving time...."

Water Development

"We have windmills, we have solar [pumps], we have pipeline. Water’s what made us work. We don’t have any pasture that’s got less than 2 wells. We move the solar pump with the cattle. We have overkill because if that tank is full and that pipeline breaks down, I’ll have three days to fix it. And that’s if I didn’t have any other water sources."


During Drought

If dry by the 4th of July:

  1. sell cows early,
  2. wean early,
  3. or get rid of the cows that are not good. I don’t care how good your program is, you’ve got cows every year that you wonder why in the world you kept that heifer. 

"We also have refuge land nearby that we can try to lease if we need it.  We don’t plan on buying hay, that’s not in our plan. We try to always keep some surplus hay year round."

Take timely action to avoid damaging pastures

"You can either take your lumps at the front end and do what’s right, or you pressure your ground too much. What you do today affects [you] for three years. If you [damage] the pasture past where it should be, it will take ten years to recover. You take care of it, it will improve every year." 

Low stocking rate helps avoid destocking in bad markets

"You can get into the situation where, financially, it would really be nice to hold on to them. Last year we had the resource, we’d leased 10,000 acres and didn’t have it fully stocked. We stockpiled everything at home, had more stockpiled at home than what our cows required, so we kept the steers over."


After Drought

Start building forage reserves again


Recommendations

Invest in Education

Set goals and track progress

"You can’t know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been and if you don’t know where you started. …the other important part is knowing where you want to go to and whether you’re getting there." 

Develop system that works for your place

"First and foremost, build a good system for your place. … they should have a plan of where they’re going, some goals they want to reach, and they’ve got to formulate a plan of how they’re going to get there. If you’ve got the goals, you’ve got your plan, then you can start picking out what to do if this happens, what to do if that happens. But for gosh sakes keep it as simple as you can." 

Improve pasture/forage resources

"Start thinking about how to build root systems, stockpile extra grass, and build enough litter to hold moisture."

Invest in water development

"…the one thing that nobody should ever skimp on is water. If you’ve got water, as long as those cattle have water and it’s distributed in the right places, that’ll take and help your distribution. Fences are options but fences give you control. But water is the first key. If you build plenty of water the rest falls into place."

The National Drought Mitigation Center | 3310 Holdrege Street | P.O. Box 830988 | Lincoln, NE 68583–0988
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