As expected and as shown in the latest Drought Monitor Map, the northern-plains drought is increasing in intensity and size. From what I have read and heard, many of the drought-stricken cow-calf producers have procrastinated to the point that they are behind the eight ball. They should have sold or relocated cattle two or three months ago. They still have time to take action – but the longer they wait, the greater the damage.
Drought is a normal part of life for most cow-calf producers. Therefore, we should all have a drought plan. Last week, I shared a favorite Bud Williams quote that said, “You will never go broke having too much money or too much grass – but going broke is easy if you have too many cattle at the wrong time.” Your drought plan should tell you when you should start turning your cows into money to save your grass.
Jim Gerrish, a longtime friend and grazing consultant, says, “It takes grass to grow grass.” The absence of healthy grass plants makes it impossible to get the most out of the solar energy and rain that falls on the land you control. During a drought, those who have implemented a good rotational grazing system will have healthy grass plants long after their neighbors have little or no grass.
Most of the 13 years prior to 2015 were severe drought years for us in Eastern Colorado. During this teenage drought, we practiced rotational grazing and destocked when it was necessary. It wasn’t fun, but we were able to get by. Our average annual precipitation (if there is such a thing) is 12 inches. In 2015, we received an amazing 12 inches of rain in the month of May – and it continued to rain in a timely fashion throughout the summer. We ended the year with a total of 24 inches of precipitation.
We had very little runoff in our pastures – and we grew a tremendous amount of grass. Our neighbors, who overgrazed their grass during the drought years, had a tremendous amount of runoff. They did not have enough grass to keep the rain where it fell – and they grew very little grass It doesn’t matter how much rain you receive. What matters is how much of the rain you receive is utilized. Even with double the average annual precipitation, most of our neighbors were still suffering from drought – a man-made drought.
CAUTION… I know from personal experience that it is easy to succumb to depression during a severe drought. When that happens, we often stop thinking and planning ahead. If you allow yourself to fall into that dark hole, things can quickly go from bad to worse. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Those who are unable to get back on track may find that they have no grass, no cows and no money when the drought ends.