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Livestock Tools for Managing Through Drought

Updated May 27, 2021
Adele Harty

Adele Harty

SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist

Hereford heifers feeding from trough during drought.
Courtesy: Canva

As drought conditions continue, ranchers are faced with making some difficult decisions. There are multiple factors involved in the decision-making process, with some being more challenging than others. Emotion is one factor that can make the decision-making process more difficult at times. Oftentimes, the ranch is seen as more than a business; it is a lifestyle, and with that it can be difficult to remove the emotions from decision making. In order to persevere through tough times, making decisions that will move the business forward are key.

When it comes to making tough decisions, utilize resources that can help ensure these are informed decisions. There are multiple people who can provide helpful information, including fellow ranchers, agriculture lenders, veterinarians and Extension professionals, just to name a few. South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension offers multiple tools and resources to provide information. Below are just a few that can be used in making the best drought-management decisions for your operation.

Available Resources

Drought Management Tips for Beef Cattle Producers

Drought Management Tips for Beef Cattle Producers is a publication that compiles multiple management resources categorized into ‘the big picture,’ supply management, demand management and marketing and finances. Within supply management, topics discussed include feed resources, rotational grazing, water quantity and quality, to name a few. The demand management section discusses the decisions that can change 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 the hard decisions.

Drought Page

There is a page specific to drought resources on the SDSU Extension website. New information is added to this page on a regular basis, so be watching for the latest drought updates and timely information.

Decision Aid Tools

On the SDSU Extension AgBusiness page, there are multiple spreadsheets available for download that can assist in decision making. These include a Move the Cows or Move the Feed Spreadsheet that allows you to compare hauling the cattle to feed versus hauling the feed to the cattle. Additionally, there is a Feed Nutrient Calculator that allows you to input the price, distance for trucking and feed analysis information for various feeds and determine the most-economical option for your operation. There are also Beef Cattle Budgets to assist in determining what you can afford to pay for variable cost items and determining your breakeven.

Feed & Water Testing Laboratories

During drought years, more than ever, it is vitally important to send forage samples to a lab for analysis. Due to drought conditions, many people may be utilizing different feedstuffs than normal, and it becomes critical to determine what additional feed or supplement is needed to meet cow nutrient requirements in the most-economic manner. There is a publication, Feed & Water Testing Laboratories, on the SDSU Extension website with information about where samples can be sent for analysis.

SDSU Extension Experts

As producers evaluate options, don’t hesitate to contact one of the SDSU Extension field specialists for assistance. Our professionals would be happy to visit about your situation and help work through any questions you have. You can reach SDSU Extension experts at the following numbers and e-mail links.

Cow/Calf Field Specialists

Range Management Field Specialists

Livestock Business Management Field Specialist