Sunday, December 21, 2014

Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch

Southwest Nebraska - Shamrock Ranch

Operation

Historically cow-calf.  Completely destocked in 2002.  Now custom grazing and stockers.

Inventory

Canyon country, clay and silt loam, native mixed grass prairie. 

Rents corn stock pivots for grazing in the winter


Critical Dates

April 1

  • "We get a lot of moisture in March, so I really monitor March, and my first critical date is April 1st."

May-June

  • "Two-thirds of our grass growth is here by mid-June. Our big moisture months are April, May, and June. If you know you’re dry [in] April and May, you’ve already lost 2/3 of your growth."

Monitoring Plan

  1. Winter moisture
    "We go on how deep the moisture goes down the [fence] post holes, on the bottoms and the tops."
  2. Forage availability
    "I drive through the ranch and estimate my recover."

Before Drought

  1. Diversify enterprise mix
    "Adjust your stocking rate so that you have a class of animal that you can sell or get rid of, put in the feedlot of whatever, at the front part of drought."
  2. Plan for shortages of many types
    "This drought plan on a ranch should also be implemented for fire, hail. Drought to me is “a shortage of”. You’d have a drought plan for shortage of money, shortage of feed. It’s all a part of risk management."

During Drought

  1. Calculate available feed, adjust stocking rate accordingly
    "When it’s starting to get dry I do quite a bit of calculating on the estimated feed available.... If we have [received] only 20% of our [expected] rainfall, we’ve only got 20% of [potential forage]. See. Quick and dirty logic, I use cowboy math."

    "When its dry, you’d better start depopulating something. You’d better get those cows out of there that haven’t calved. You better get a cow that has a bad bag and you had to help her, you better get her and her calf out of there. Sell some of those pairs. You’d better get your stockers moving."
  2. Destock custom grazers
    "...Every custom grazer knew that when I pulled the plug, they had to go. I gave them a month’s notice, then I gave them three weeks’ notice that the cattle had to go." 
  3. Stick to the plan, Don’t second guess
    "It’s all that planning and understanding so that you don’t have to think about it when you are in the depths of the emotion."

After Drought - Lessons Learned

  1. Have a plan for restocking
    "[We didn’t] have a plan for post-drought. We lost 20% of our equity because of that."
    "I didn’t know what to do when I had to depopulation, and to repopulate." 
  2. Think outside of cow-calf box
    "I was in the cow-calf paradigm culture. And could not get myself out of it. The thought of going and buying maybe 400 pound heifer calves, never entered my mind, just never entered my mind."
  3. Use grazing strategy to rebuild pastures
    "Basically we replenished the cool season grass, which I had been kind of setting back pretty hard over the ten years prior to that. But by letting the cool seasons completely take over, I stunted my warm seasons. Unintended consequences are astounding. But anyway, we had drought all over so we took in about 600 cows in October and ran them through the 85 paddocks, just to try to knock some of that seedhead down and try to trample some of that grass so that the microbes could get to it in the wintertime. Just a flash graze. And what it did, it gave us a little bit of income."
  4. Be aware of mental and emotional issues that may color decisions
    "...Most people are so shell-shocked, that either they hang onto their cattle and absolutely decimate their property, or like we did, we sold our cattle, and then I was paralyzed to put cattle back on."

    "It is astounding what mental paralysis will do. All that summer, our neighbors, they didn’t destock, they didn’t take any cattle out. And they were helping us gather cattle all the time. They were looking at us and thinking, boy, you guys are drier than we are. They just didn’t even see what they were doing."

    "You look at everything and reinforce what you’re doing on the outside, but you’ll only see and find the things to reinforce what you’re thinking, rather than truly critical thinking, if you haven’t done it ahead of time."

Recommendations

"Going in I wish I would have been more diligent to my plan of have an enterprise mix. See I had all cow-calf. Bought cows at $750 and sold pairs at $600, $625, sold my cows at $540. It was just astounding. We buy and sell all of our cows and calves so I have exact figures, but people raising heifers is the same math. I wish I would have had more of an acceptance and a knowledge of running a different class of animals. You know in the old days, and it sounds stupid to go back to them but those old established ranches in Nebraska here and in Texas and a lot of areas, they didn’t put all of their eggs in one basket. They’d run yearlings in the fat years, and they’d just keep their core cow herd in the lean years. The enterprise mix and the risk management is a big key."

Write a Plan for Drought

Drought is a normal part of climate...it will happen again. Fortunately, there are things you can do before, during, and after drought to reduce your risk. Learn more...

 

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