I was printing the latest Missouri Grasslands & Forage Council newsletter today (I currently work at a printing company.) The main article “Managing the Spring Flush” was written by Mark Kennedy, who taught the NRCS grazing school that I attended last week.
While managing the rapid spring growth is a worthwhile topic for anybody involved in pasture-based livestock, I was sort of shocked to see that managing during drought was hardly mentioned during the two-day grazing school. As cattlemen (and women) all across the South, Southwest and Plains are finding out, drought is a real downer. (This warm winter sure didn’t help either)
I used to always be in awe of my Grandparents, and particularly of how they were shaped by the Great Depression for the rest of their lives, even though it was over by the time they reached adulthood. Since the “Great Recession of 2008”, I feel like our generation has got just a little taste of what our grandparents went through, and maybe it will help us start planning for the bad times, instead of the good.
It seems to me that the good times practically plan themselves. Sure, you can have problems with expansion, liquidity and all the rest, but good times are generally pretty forgiving of mistakes.
In pasture-based livestock, planning for the bad times means planning for drought. No matter where you live, you’re going to experience drought to some degree at some point in time. And if you’re in the grazing business, that means that at some unknown future date, your land will suddenly support fewer animals than it does now.
Julius Ruechel, in his excellent book Grass-Fed Cattle, strongly advocates that all stockmen make a drought plan well in advance of needing it. According to Ruechel, you should plan to destock your herd as you see that rainfall levels are falling below averages for your area. Destocking should start with all of your culls and market animals, leaving a core brood herd of your very best animals. Here’s a PDF from Texas A&M that outlines the process pretty well.
Since I’m about to move up North to Minnesota and embark on a year of living as a farmer-without-a-farm, I’m going to get busy writing a thorough drought plan. Hopefully, a nice spreadsheet thing-a-majig that will track rainfall averages, and calculate out the carrying capacity, and then tell me how much destocking needs to happen.
Here’s a little something I stumbled upon today whilst perusing them internets. Noble Foundation’s Managing During Drought.
I hope that Living in the Upper Midwest, and having a Texas-Oklahoma level drought plan ought to put us in pretty good shape.