Managing Through the Drought |

Managing Through the Drought

Adele Harty
SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist

As drought conditions continue to expand and worsen through the Dakotas and Montana, ranchers are faced with the stress and challenges of making the best decisions for their operations.

There are multiple factors that play into the decision-making process, with some being more challenging than others.

One of the factors that makes this process more difficult at times, is being able to separate the emotion from the business.

Oftentimes we see the ranch as more than a business but focusing on the basics of making decisions on what is best for the business will help persevere through tough times.

Tools & Resources

To make the best management decisions, it is important to utilize your resources and contacts to gather information and make the most informed decisions.

There are multiple people who can help provide information, including fellow ranchers, ag lenders, veterinarians, and extension professionals, to name and few.

SDSU Extension offers multiple tools and resources to provide information. Below is a listing of just a few that can be used in making the best drought management decisions for your operation.

Drought Management Publication

Drought Management Tips for Ranchers is an SDSU Extension publication that compiles multiple resources on management decisions focusing on supply management, including: feed resources, rotational grazing, water quantity and quality.

This publication also addresses demand management and decisions that can affect or decrease the demand for feed resources, such as early weaning, shortening the breeding season to only keep the most fertile females, and culling practices.

Be willing to think outside the box to determine what will work best for your ranch and have a plan in place before drought happens again, so that you are ready and prepared to make those hard decisions.

Find this publication at and search by title name.

Decision-Making Tools

On the SDSU Economics website,, there are multiple spreadsheets available for download that can assist in decision making.

These include a Haul the Cattle Worksheet that allows livestock producers to compare hauling the cattle to feed versus hauling the feed to the cattle.

Additionally, there is a Feed Nutrient Comparison Calculator that allows users to put the price, distance for trucking and feed analysis information in for various feeds and determine which is the cheapest option while meeting nutrient needs.

There are also Livestock Budget templates to assist in determining what you can afford to pay for the other items in the spreadsheets.

Feed Testing Laboratories

During drought years, it is vitally important to send forage samples to a lab for analysis.

Many livestock producers may be using different feeds than normal and being able to determine what additional feed or supplement needs to be added to the mix will be key for meeting nutrient requirements as well as making the smartest economic decisions.

The iGrow publication, Feed Testing Laboratories contains information about where samples can be sent for analysis. Visit and search by title.

SDSU Extension Experts

As you are working through these decisions, don’t hesitate to contact one of the SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialists, State Beef Specialists, Livestock Business Management Field Specialists or Beef Feedlot Management Associate.

Our professionals would be happy to visit about your situation and help work through any problems you are having.

Find an SDSU Extension staff person near you by visiting and click on the Field Staff icon.

–SDSU Extension

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