Having a good drought plan in place can help your operation weather even the most severe drought conditions, according to specialists with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Your plan should consider how crops, forage, and other resources have reacted to drought in the past. The NRCS offers these land-management ideas.

  • Use conservation tillage, leaving crop residue on fields after harvest, to increase soil moisture and reduce evaporation.
  • Use conservation practices that reduce runoff and encourage infiltration of water into the soil.
  • Closely monitor soil moisture. Ask your local NRCS office for a complimentary copy of the agency publication "Estimating Soil Moisture by Feel and Appearance."
  • Maintain and establish riparian buffers, filter strips, grassed waterways, and other types of conservation buffers near streams and other sources of water.
  • Know your animals' forage needs. Contract early to make sure you will have enough hay during dry times or find alternative feed sources.
  • Cull herds according to a schedule that will maximize your profits.

University of Nebraska animal scientist Rick Rasby, PhD., identifies three management strategies for reducing forage demand: livestock inventory; use of existing forage resources and alternative feeding programs. Adjusting livestock inventory, he says, usually is the most economical alternative. Use individual production records to identify and cull late calving cows, older cows, and less productive cows. Cull early to avoid selling when everyone else is. Remove yearlings from pasture early to sell or place on feed. Rasby says an advantage of a yearling enterprise along with cow-calf enterprise is if pasture becomes limited, yearlings can be sold or moved to the feedlot while keeping the cow herd intact. Weaning calves early is another way to conserve forages. Consider retaining ownership of early weaned calves to take advantage of the efficient gain, Rasby suggests.