That’s the advice from the South Dakota Grassland Coalition this grazing season. And this April 7 U.S. Drought Monitor map predicting drought for about half the U.S. is why.
Read on for more SDGC advice on prepping for a drought-driven grazing season.
“If we can’t grow grass, we can’t make money. That’s the bottom line right there.”
That’s Pat Guptill, a rancher from Quinn in western South Dakota. When he and his wife Mary Lou sold two-thirds of their cow herd last year, it was a measured, economic decision rather than one made in panic.
To Guptill, long-term economic viability is totally dependent on the viability of his pastures. “The thing we should be looking at as grass managers is the economics of it. Over grazing or lack of rest is not economical,” Guptill said. “Whatever decision you make, make it to protect your pastures. If you overgraze and bare your ground, it can take three to five years for that pasture to recover, but if you keep it protected with grass it takes only three to five months after a substantial rain for that grass to recover.”
With that in mind, Guptill said he’s following his father-in-law’s advice from years ago. “He said ‘We should never fall in love with our cows.’ Everyone spends a lot of time building their cow herds, but when you hang on too long, it hurts you,” Guptill said.
By March of this year he had already reached the first trigger date in his drought plan and decided to sell steers. “I know I’m going to be short on forage. So, I have to get rid of some cattle,” Guptill said.
Jim Faulstich, who ranches in central South Dakota, agrees. “I don’t see any way around the fact that we’re going to have less forage this year than last year.” He encourages graziers to do a resource inventory, including things like labor availability, financial situation, available standing and stored feed, and numbers and classes of livestock. “You have to know what you’ve got out there first. Then you can start looking at options, and start planning,” he said. He also says his plan has helped him increase profits. “It changed everything around when we changed our management to put more attention on our resource versus the livestock,” he said. “Our profitability is really turned around, and it’s a little surprising just how well that grass and soil resource responds when the drought is over.”
“There’s nothing you can do about the weather or the markets,” says Faulstich. “But if you plan around them, if you’re prepared, you can do a lot of positive things.”
We’ve got all kinds of drought planning resources at On Pasture. For starters, check out our Drought Planning 101 ebook. I’ll share more in future issues.
Thanks for reading!