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Ranch Management in Drought   arrow

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 here. Most of the drought planning strategies are best used before a drought when there is more flexibility in time, resources, and mental energy.

You don’t have to plan for drought alone

Don’t have a drought management plan for your ranch? We are happy to work one-on-one with you to build a drought contingency plan for your operation. A drought plan consists of 1) defining goals for your ranch operation, 2) defining “trigger points” for decisions (or what information will prompt an action within you drought plan, and 3) what strategies you can use to reduce the economic, ecological and social impacts of drought. Contact us at to get started.

A couple examples of drought plans, using long-term forecasts, the 2020 beef outlook, and triggers and tools are featured in this recent ‘fireside chat’ 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

Responding to Drought

Below are “response” resources to manage your ranch through drought.

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