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Drought actions & advice?

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LCP

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Been a dry spring here so we are selling about 30% of our cows tomorrow. Everything that had not calved plus a few pairs. We may sell down some more in a few weeks when we work calves if the weather doesn't change significantly. This is the first year since I have had a significant financial interest (I've always had sweat equity!) in the operation that we have had to destock due to drought. So it is a learning experience. We have yet to turn our replacement heifers out to grass, and are thinking very seriously about keeping them in a drylot for the summer (our place or somewhere with a cheaper feed base). I'm looking at using the proceeds from tomorrow's sale to pay down operating debt and partner on some feeder cattle with a trusted associate in another part of the state that isn't so dry.

What are some of the actions or decisions you have made in the face of drought that worked well? What are some things you would avoid?

And does anyone know where I can find cheap hay for sale in north central SD? :D
 

GM888

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we sent cattle 800 miles away in 2002 drought. Neighbor sold all cows older then 6. No feed so we hired a guy to custom feed cows and in the spring BSE hit .I realize that was un lucky but we were caught with some big bills and a lot of cows we maybe should of shipped. My neighbor seemed to make out better. Swore I would always cull rather then add expense. Not advice but just a personal experience
 

Traveler

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If you have some farming, or access to, during drought times it can help you hold your cow herd together. Grazing or haying wheat, etc...just don't wait too long to hay wheat. Some forage crops may surprise you what they can do with some subsoil moisture and not a lot else. Or if you usually run yearlings, you can send them down the road and try to hold on to the cows. Nothing brilliant, just some practices we have used.
 

LCP

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Traveler said:
If you have some farming, or access to, during drought times it can help you hold your cow herd together. Grazing or haying wheat, etc...just don't wait too long to hay wheat. Some forage crops may surprise you what they can do with some subsoil moisture and not a lot else. Or if you usually run yearlings, you can send them down the road and try to hold on to the cows. Nothing brilliant, just some practices we have used.

How long is too long? Have one neighbor talking of cutting his winter wheat as soon as it heads and they can get it appraised for crop insurance. It's in the boot now. Is that soon enough or no?
 

Traveler

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LCP said:
Traveler said:
If you have some farming, or access to, during drought times it can help you hold your cow herd together. Grazing or haying wheat, etc...just don't wait too long to hay wheat. Some forage crops may surprise you what they can do with some subsoil moisture and not a lot else. Or if you usually run yearlings, you can send them down the road and try to hold on to the cows. Nothing brilliant, just some practices we have used.

How long is too long? Have one neighbor talking of cutting his winter wheat as soon as it heads and they can get it appraised for crop insurance. It's in the boot now. Is that soon enough or no?
It makes a lot better hay if you can get it before it heads. The longer you wait the more it ends up like straw.
 

WB

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I wouldn't be afraid to let the wheat head out. If you have farm ground a person can raise a lot of feed as it is still early. I think when it comes to destocking that there are a lot of variables that different operations have to deal with. Yearlings for example can be moved, drylotted, fed out etc. late calvers are a no no in these drier years.
 

Cowpuncher

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We went through a drought in 2002. No moisture the whole winter. The winter wheat never greened up.

We were still feeding the cows in June and July. We bought feed, though it was getting scarce and costly.

Some of the neighbors sold their entire herds and never bought a bale of hay or pound of cake.

At some point in July - very late it rained. Actually, quite a bit. The grass came alive and the cattle flourished.

Summer crops of sorghum also did well and we were able to get enough feed to get us into the next year.

At weaning time, the calves were heavier than ever and the prices were pretty good.

We collected some crop insurance on the wheat - no profit in wheat, but we got our input costs back.

All said and done, we survived, but never made a cent.

The neighbors that sold their herd are working for wages now.

We had a huge tax loss for the year and it earned us and IRS audit. I have an accounting degree and we
had to pay some $840 in tax - not a biggie. They were wrong, but it was worth it to get them to go away.

We have sold our ranch and live in retirement quite comfortably.

Question: What would we have done if it has not rained in late July and August. It would not have been pretty.
But as a Harvard MBA said "It is better to be lucky than smart."

Can't tell anyone else what to do. Who knows if you are going to be lucky?

CP
 

Traveler

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This is some carry-over wheat hay. It was green and succulent when it was cut and hadn't much more than headed. The cows don't care for it that much, and not real palatable, but will make a turd. Believe me when I say it's better to cut it sooner than later.
 

Denny

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Traveler said:


This is some carry-over wheat hay. It was green and succulent when it was cut and hadn't much more than headed. The cows don't care for it that much, and not real palatable, but will make a turd. Believe me when I say it's better to cut it sooner than later.

I'd chop it and make haylage headed out would make the most tonnage.
 

Faster horses

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Denny said:
Traveler said:


This is some carry-over wheat hay. It was green and succulent when it was cut and hadn't much more than headed. The cows don't care for it that much, and not real palatable, but will make a turd. Believe me when I say it's better to cut it sooner than later.

I'd chop it and make haylage headed out would make the most tonnage.

I know nothing about chopping and haylage, but for regular cuttings, I know that the earlier you cut it, the more nutrition is in it, or in any and all hay for that matter. If you feed a lot of wheat hay, it has a lot of phos, so get mineral with less phos so the cows will continue to get their micro minerals. We had customers that fed only wheat hay and those cows experienced Winter Tetnany, due to the fact phos is a limiter. With high phos, they weren't eating the regular mineral at the requirement, so their body was getting out of balance. They changed to lower phos and the cows stopped having the symptoms.
 

Big Muddy rancher

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Check for nitrates on drought stressed crops.
Good luck on what ever you do, drought is no fun for sure. We look to be headed that way ourselves.
 

RSL

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Sounds like you are making some good decisions. Our experience with drought has taught us a few things. In 2002 we had 3/8" from the first of May to the end of September. We always have grass but we now have a formal, written plan with specific triggers. What we learned...
1) get rid of cattle early. If you are wrong and it rains you will have lots of grass, but if you are right and it doesn't you will have grass to maintain your core cowherd. We trim opens, culls, lates, etc. Waiting too long just removes forage/feed that could be used for your better cows, rather than running out of forage for the entire cow herd.
2) keep some grass cattle in your program. If it doesn't rain you can get rid of these to generate cash to supplement feed, etc.
3) it's cheaper to move cattle to feed than feed to cattle. Some folks got burned in 2002 but we had a good experience sending cows out.
4) slow down your pasture rotation to buy yourself time. If its' not raining, its not growing so you won't overgraze (use some common sense here).
5) Carry moisture insurance
6) cows definitely do not have to eat hay. If you feed test and are a bit creative you may never feed cows the same way again. In 2002/03 winter we ran cows on prairie until the end of January, we hayed native range, and we used winter cereals, etc.
7) Take some time to relax. Should probably be number 1 on the list. You don't control the weather but you can control your relationships and personal health. Easier said than done, but important!
 

Mike

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Over grazing can cause terrible problems for years. The health of a plant's root system is directly proportional to the amount of top growth. You can't have forage with adequate top growth without a good root system.
 

Caustic Burno

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LCP said:
Been a dry spring here so we are selling about 30% of our cows tomorrow. Everything that had not calved plus a few pairs. We may sell down some more in a few weeks when we work calves if the weather doesn't change significantly. This is the first year since I have had a significant financial interest (I've always had sweat equity!) in the operation that we have had to destock due to drought. So it is a learning experience. We have yet to turn our replacement heifers out to grass, and are thinking very seriously about keeping them in a drylot for the summer (our place or somewhere with a cheaper feed base). I'm looking at using the proceeds from tomorrow's sale to pay down operating debt and partner on some feeder cattle with a trusted associate in another part of the state that isn't so dry.

What are some of the actions or decisions you have made in the face of drought that worked well? What are some things you would avoid?

And does anyone know where I can find cheap hay for sale in north central SD? :D

In 2011 here in Texas I sold 70% of mine to save the pasture. You can't feed profit into them in a drought. Gets down to ruthless culling put the money up to play another day.
 

LCP

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The drought monitor has us right about in the middle of the D1 zone. Sure hate to think about what D3 would look like. Ft Pierre is advertising something like 1600 pairs and bred cows for Friday's sale, guess we are not the only ones concerned. I am very glad we sold what we did, when we did. We only kept cows that calved in the first 30 days, which I think helps set us up a little better for early weaning if needed. And I'm done calving - not that I don't like the work, there's just plenty else to do this time of year.

Next week I plan to visit every pasture and asses the forage supply to determine if we need to destock further. With many of our cool season grasses heading out I don't think we have a huge potential for additional growth even if it does rain later.

5 of the bred cows we shipped on Monday gave birth at the sale barn, one with a set of twins. All the calves survived and sold as pairs. Sometimes you get lucky I guess. I would prefer my luck to be applied toward precipitation next time.
 

leanin' H

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Drought has been a way of life in our country pretty regularly. RSL gave you some fine advice. Having a plan is key and giving yourself options sure helps too. By taking care of your grass, it will be able to pay ya back when the moisture comes. Weaning a little earlier than normal will help reduce a cows nutritional needs. I wish you luck and hope the rain shows up for ya soon.
 

George

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I wish I could share the wet - - - We got 2" from 11:00 AM Wednesday till noon and another 1" over night - - - for the first time in 8 years I have a large State contract and need to run between 100 and 200 Tri Axel trucks daily for 3 weeks to complete on time - - - the 10 trucks contracted started coming in my gate at 8:00 AM and 63 made it prior to the downpour. The state has stopped all operations till Tuesday morning - - - hope it is dry by then! There is a "weather" clause in the comtract but I just want to get done and get paid!

The contractor loading them is using a 470 JD excavator with a 6 yd bucket - - - I am impressed he could load them that quickly! The haul is about 6 miles one way but he sure kept them coming to me!
 

Big Muddy rancher

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George said:
I wish I could share the wet - - - We got 2" from 11:00 AM Wednesday till noon and another 1" over night - - - for the first time in 8 years I have a large State contract and need to run between 100 and 200 Tri Axel trucks daily for 3 weeks to complete on time - - - the 10 trucks contracted started coming in my gate at 8:00 AM and 63 made it prior to the downpour. The state has stopped all operations till Tuesday morning - - - hope it is dry by then! There is a "weather" clause in the comtract but I just want to get done and get paid!

The contractor loading them is using a 470 JD excavator with a 6 yd bucket - - - I am impressed he could load them that quickly! The haul is about 6 miles one way but he sure kept them coming to me!

I doesn't seem to work out that the rain can be shared, makes you wonder why one area get to much rain and the next not enough.
 

Shortgrass

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Hard decisions. Many of us have made them. Changes way you manage for the better. Some neighbors sold all, and have since restocked. Some weaned calves as early as June to reduce feed requirements for the cows. I cut back numerous times. Should have sold 50% once instead of 20% three times. If you knew if is this was the middle, beginning or end of the drought it would help. You don't. Pray lots. Remember to enjoy what you have left more than you worry about what you must do. If you sell the cows to keep the ranch, it makes sense to me. A darn good life, but hard, only the very hardy survive. Best advice I would give is to enjoy what God has given you. It is his gift. Not all is in the pasture.
 

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