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Hey! Better Dust Off Your Drought Plan!

By   /  April 27, 2020  /  Comments Off on Hey! Better Dust Off Your Drought Plan!

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The US Weather Service has issued its drought prediction for the next 90 days and for some of us the news is not good. The brown in this map shows where drought persists, and the yellow shows drought developing.

Map courtesy of the United States Drought Monitor. Click to view website.


That’s on top of vegetation that is still showing some drought stress from past years. In this map white is near normal, the green shows good moisture levels, and the yellow to red show drought stress.

The United States Drought Monitor updates these maps every two weeks. You can find updated maps here.


We’re also looking at some pretty hot temperatures everywhere in the United States. White represents normal temperatures. The potential for hotter than normal temperatures increases as the color moves from yellow to red.


For some of us, this will all be balanced out by higher than normal precipitation. Those of you in the greener areas of the first three maps will probably have more than your normal share. But those of us in the tan sections, well, we’re going to be praying for rain.


Why am I telling you all of this? To encourage you to Perceive, Plan and Act.

According to “Deep Survival” those are the steps that separate people who survive disasters and those that perish. I shared those steps as part of an article I wrote in late 2018 regarding our responses to drought, and the federal strategy of sending ranchers cash to help them get through it. My point then was that because drought is a naturally occurring, and in fact recurring phenomenon, slathering a bit of free money on the pain of drought was a very poor strategy, as it would not change any behavior or management and therefore would not prepare American ranchers for the next drought.

Well, guess what? The next drought appears to be here for many of us. And sending money is still a bad idea.

Question: Since we never know for sure when drought is coming, what should we be doing to prepare and respond?

Here are my same old, tired, but useful ideas.

Change our way of thinking.

Accept that drought is a natural and inevitable part of the management puzzle for people in the land and livestock business. Take steps to improve the resilience of your pastures by stocking them properly and grazing them to leave leaves and residue. That helps protect the soil from high temperatures so that it can hold more moisture so your pastures stay healthier even when it’s dry. Then give your pastures plenty of rest before coming back to them so that they can fully recover. Consider other forages for your herd, like the sorghum sudan grass, pearl millet, and honey locust that Chad Fisher talks about in his article this week.

Develop a Drought Plan with trigger dates and defined actions.

You probably have a good idea of what your pastures should look like at particular times of the year. Write those dates down. They are the dates that will trigger actions. Those actions could include destocking, moving animals to another location, etc. Having a plan before anything happens ensures better decisions in times of stress.

Pledge to follow your Drought Plan. Act early and aggressively.

Reach the logical conclusion that reducing your stocking rate is by far the most significant step you can take to reduce the effect of drought.

Finally, try to imagine a management system that depends upon your capability to make good, solid management decisions rather than receiving relief checks.

Happy Grazing!



Ready to Get Started?

Making it through a drought means planning for it long before it happens. Proactive, smart grazing management will provide healthy soil and plant cover, establish water systems that work when things go wrong, and ensure livestock that fits your environment. Smart management also means having a plan and implementing it when drought arrives. All this preparation creates resilience you need to see you through hard times.

To help you, we’ve created our first ebook, Drought Planning 101, your guide to planning for resilience. From our community comes Dave Pratt of Ranch Management Consultants who starts us off with the steps for success. We add to the details with destocking and leasing tips. Then farmers and ranchers from all parts of the country provide examples of how they managed and adapted. Greg Judy brings it all together showing how he grazed through two years of drought. We hope this helps you become a drought-proof, resilient grazier.

This bonus content is a service to our paid subscribers to thank them for being part of the On Pasture community. If you haven’t had a chance to subscribe, just head over here. Or click here to get your download link.

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About the author

John Marble grew up on a terribly conventional ranch with a large family where each kid had their own tractor. Surviving that, he now owns a small grazing and marketing operation that focuses on producing value through managed grazing. He oversees a diverse ranching operation, renting and owning cattle and grasslands while managing timber, wildlife habitat and human relationships. His multi-species approach includes meat goats, pointing dogs and barn cats. He has a life-long interest in ecology, trying to understand how plants, animals, soils and humans fit together. John spends his late-night hours working on fiction, writing about worlds much less strange than this one.

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