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Hoping for rain is not a drought strategy

You cannot control drought, but you can lessen it’s impact on your ranching operation through a contingency plan. We have information on drought contingency planning on this page and at Most of the drought planning strategies are best used before a drought when there is more flexibility in time, resources, and mental energy.

Drought Planning Basics

Infographic of improving flexibility and reducing risk on a landscape

1) You don’t have to plan for drought alone

Drought Advisors is a network of professionals in Colorado who have developed a Drought Planning Handbook, website, and more.

Drought plan examples are available at and in this ‘fireside chat’ recorded during the 2020 drought, featuring: Annie Overlin and Kevin Jablonski – CSU Range Extension, Justin Derner- USDA-ARS, David Augustine-ARS, Dannele-USDA-ARS, John Ritten- UWY, Steve Oswald and Kenny Burk- southern CO ranchers

2) Predict it.

  • While predicting drought is imperfect, these resources provide more information to ranchers than ever available before to help managers make informed decisions.
Map of Colorado showing the departure from normal of precipitation, 11/2016 -5/2017
Precip November 2016 – May 2017The US Drought Monitor Portal
  • NOAA’s Monthly Drought Outlook
  • NOAA’s one and three-month temperature and precipitation probability outlooks
  • Western Water Assessment Intermountain West Climate DashboardExample at right!  Visually summarize regional trends in drought, precipitation, snowpack, etc., and make your own map.
  • 3) Have a plan and set critical dates for making decisions.

    4) Consider strategies to increase flexibility and reduce risk.

    • Strategies maScreen shot of PDF, "Adaptive Management for Drought on Rangelands" by Derner et al. y include 1) setting a conservative stocking rate, 2) adding yearling livestock to cow-calf operations, or 3) setting aside a pasture as a grass-banking strategy.
    • The Colorado Drought Planning Handbook details many different strategies.

    5) Learn more!

    Ag & Business

    Agriculture & Business Management – Decision Tools

    Decision tools for Managing Drought Risk

    Drought Planning

    Alternative Forages

    Forage Testing & Alternatives

    Picture of a cow with the words "explore alternative feed options with expensive"

    Alternative forages can be a money saving strategy because the cost of hay can increase substantially in drought. Check out the resources below for more info. If you do choose an alternative forage, make sure you get it tested. Some forages, such as sorghum, can concentrate nitrates in drought and stressful conditions. Excess nitrates can be toxic to livestock. Check out the resources below for more info.

    Emergency Preparedness

    Stress Management

    Drought Planning

    Rangeland Management During Drought

    Drought Planning

    Graphic of a drought planning process including "planning", "doing", "learning" and "assessing"

    “Triggers” in Drought Management

    A graphic with a landscape picture and text describing triggers in drought management

    “Triggers” are used in drought planning as a specific sign that activates a management response. A trigger might be percent of average precipitation, or a stock pond that fills (or doesn’t) by a certain date, couple with an action like “de-stock by a certain amount” or other action. For example from a Nebraska ranch has formulated their trigger this way:

    • They usually receive 75% of the precipitation between Nov. and June 15.
    • If they receive less than 80% of average precipitation between Nov. 1 and June 15, they estimate that the forage crop will be reduced by 30%, and de-stock accordingly (de-stock 30% by weight).

    Resources for creating “triggers” include:

    For eastern Colorado, GrassCast is one tool to understand forecasts for forage production. This tool gives estimates based on precipitation scenarios and years of rangeland production data.

    Poisonous Plants

    Forecasts: Weather & Markets

    Cattle Market Report Lists

    Picture of various drought monitoring maps

    Weather & Climate Information

    • The National Drought Mitigation Center’s monitoring dashboard features the latest data on drought and precipitation conditions, outlooks, on-the-ground reports, vegetative stress, forage productivity and more, organized around the key questions, such as “what is my current drought situation?”, “How does this year compare to last year?” and “What can I expect for forage production this year?” A user who clicks on the question about drought severity, and how it compares to past droughts, is led to an interactive display that presents current U.S. Drought Monitor conditions and allows for historical comparisons. Other common questions lead users to other vital resources that can be displayed on a U.S. map, and used together, the map’s layers provide a clear picture of current drought conditions and expectations.

    Other Sources for Climate and Weather information