Range Management and
Drought
Christopher D Allison
Range Management Specialist
NMSU, Cooperative Ext. Service
What Is a Drought?
 Indonesia: 6 days without rain.
 Lybia: 2 years without rain.
 Society for range management: precipitation is ¾
of the average or less.
 Palmer drought index weights accumulated
differences between precipitation and
evapotranspiration.
 Most people have little difficulty recognizing a
drought.
Palmer Drought Severity Index
Created in 1965. Based on IA, KS studies.
Based on Precipitation, Temperature and
Available Water Content (AWC) of the
soil.
Most effective in determining long term
droughts.
Rain is only precipitation used.
“Meteorological” not “Hydrological”.
Palmer Drought Severity Index
4.0 or More………….Extremely Wet
3.0 to 3.99 …………Very Wet
2.0 to 2.99 ………… Moderately Wet
1.0 to 1.99 …………..Slightly Wet
0.5 to 0.99……………Incipient Wet Spell
0.49 to –0.49…………Near Normal
Palmer Drought Severity Index
0.49 to – 0.49 …… Near Normal
- 0.5 to – 0.99 …… Incipient Dry Spell
- 1.0 to – 1.99……. Mild Drought
- 2.0 to – 2.99 …… Moderate Drought
- 3.0 to – 3.99 …….Severe Drought
- 4.0 to – 4.99……. Extreme Drought
years (1912-2000)
2000
1996
1992
1988
1984
1980
1976
1972
1968
1964
1960
1956
1952
1948
1944
1940
1936
1932
1928
1924
1920
1916
1912
inches
Precipitation Portales New Mexico
50
45
40
35
30
25
average
precipitation
20
15
10
5
0
Average precipitation by decade
20.00
18.00
16.00
14.00
12.00
10.00
average
8.00
6.00
4.00
2.00
0.00
10's
20's
30's
40's
50's
60's
70's
80's
90's
19
30
19
33
19
36
19
39
19
42
19
45
19
48
19
51
19
54
19
57
19
60
19
63
19
66
19
69
19
72
19
75
19
78
19
81
19
84
19
87
19
90
19
93
19
96
19
99
inche s
precipatation: average 9.11inches
20.00
18.00
16.00
14.00
12.00
10.00
8.00
6.00
4.00
2.00
0.00
years
decades: average 9.11 inches
12.00
10.00
8.00
inches 6.00
4.00
2.00
0.00
1930s
1940s
1950s
1960s
1970s
decades
1980s
1990s
2000s
National Climatic Data Center
World’s Largest Archive of Weather Data
www.ncdc.noaa.gov
National Climatic Data Center
Drought Years: 66% of the Time
Impacts of Drought
Severe reduction in forage production(6-7
fold fluctuation).
High mortality to range grasses whether
grazed or not ( 50% mortality not
uncommon).
Range Management Principles
Proper stocking rate.
Proper livestock distribution.
These remain the same during drought or
good years.
Will the Real Stocking Rate
Please Stand Up!
Is there one stocking level that will be right
for my ranch for all time?
Constant & Conservative vs. Flexible.
years (1912-2000)
2000
1996
1992
1988
1984
1980
1976
1972
1968
1964
1960
1956
1952
1948
1944
1940
1936
1932
1928
1924
1920
1916
1912
inches
50
45
40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0
If Drought Is Such a Highly
Predictable Event (66%) Why
Are We So Unprepared for One
When It Occurs?
The Role of Government in
Drought
The Role of Government in
Drought Response
USDA emergency feed program – replaced
by the non-insured assistance program.
These programs enable ranchers to stock at
higher rates than would be wise.
Why not provide incentives to ranchers for
early de-stocking in response to dry
conditions?
The Role of Government in
Drought Response(proposals)
If politicians are intent on providing feed
subsidies, ranchers should be required to
produce a drought preparedness plan.
In “official” drought areas, ranchers would
receive payments for the duration of the
drought and for a specified period
afterwards.(CRP model).
The Role of Government in
Drought
The Agricultural Risk Protection Act of
2000: outlines the development of a pilot
project for a pasture and range risk
management program.
The 2000 amendment to the Federal Crop
Insurance Act requires the USDA’s Risk
Management Agency to develop a risk
management program for rangeland.
The Role of Government in
Drought
2002 “ Agreement to determine percent of
grazing loss.”
CES and NRCS will provide assessments
of grazed forage acreage conditions to the
local FSA County Committee.
Guidelines for performing assessments will
be established jointly by CES and NRCS.
The Role of Ranchers in
Drought Response.
Constantly monitor forage supply and
demand. Flexible stocking is a must.
A “wait and see” management style has a
high long-term cost.
Soil erosion = less moisture holding
capacity = more variability in forage
production.
The Role of Ranchers in
Drought Response.
Don’t try to feed your way out of a
drought.This is similar to borrowing your
way out of debt. Remember: you never
know when the drought will end.
Check dirt tanks. Reliance on piped water
makes it easy to not react fast enough.
Reliance on piped water makes it
easy to not react fast enough.
Drought Preparedness (Free
Advice)
 1. Maintain as much carryover forage as you
can.
 2.Have a flexible herd composition . 1/4 – 1/3 of
the total stocking rate should be comprised of
yearlings.OR keep more/cull heavier with
replacement heifers.
 3.Develop a drought reserve pasture. Always
have a pasture that was rested the previous year.
More Free Advice for Drought
Preparedness
4. Sell early.This insures higher prices,and
more grass for the remaining herd.
5. Cull heavier than normal. Open
cows,older cows,body condition scores less
than #4.
6. If you decide to feed your way out of a
drought, feed “energy dense”supplements
because you are short on energy (grass).
Still More Free Advice
7. Wean early. Lactating animals consume
1/3 more feed than dry cows.
8. Have a de-stocking plan in writing. The
heat and dust of the sorting pens is not a
good place to think through the production
and economic consequences of your
decisions.
Some More Free Drought
Planning Advice
 9. Set “critical dates”.There is a date on your
ranch by which, if it has not rained, you know
you are in trouble. Even if it rains, you will still
be short of feed.Let everyone on the ranch know
when it is and what the plan is.
 10. Initiate your de-stocking plan on that date.
 11. Being caught with too many cattle after that
date, leads to poor prices and range
deterioration.
Free Drought Advice
12.Don’t drought feed. “Drought feeding
leads to overstocking, deteriorated ranges
and bankrupt ranchers.”
13. Beware of “free money”.Government
programs may have a high cost to the
range.
Summary
Hauling water,feeding livestock and crying
in your beer won’t insure survival. These
tend to reinforce the feeling of panic and
deplete your bank account.
Get a plan.
Do an on-ground forage budgeting
exercise. “Is there enough grass to last
until the next growing season?”
Forage Budgeting
Is there enough grass to last until next
growing season?
Ex: 100 cows, 5000 acres, 10 months
(Sept-June).
100 cows x 300 days / 5000 acres = 6
CDA.
Each acre will have to support 6 cows for 1
day.
Forage Budgeting
43,560 / 6 = 7,260 ft2 for 1 cow for 1 day.
85 ft x 85 ft is the area needed to check in
the field.
Perform this field check in several areas
(avoid those “good spots”).
RANGE READINESS!
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Range Management and Drought