Animal Science Department


Date of this Version



Presented at Range Beef Cow Symposium XXII, November 29, 30, and December 1, 2011, Mitchell, Nebraska. Sponsored by Cooperative Extension Services and the Animal Science Departments of the University of Wyoming, Colorado State University, South Dakota State University, and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.



Drought is a recurring phenomenon with potential to significantly impact the livestock industry. During the past 14 years, the majority of livestock producers in the Great Plains and western states have experienced some level of drought ranging from moderate to extreme or even exceptional. Many grazing experts recommend developing a ranch drought plan to reduce their drought risk (Nagler et al. 2007). Most of these plans are specifically customized to an individual operation and include both short-term and long-term strategies and objectives. Producers with a drought plan actively monitor resources; build ecological, financial, and social resilience into their operations; and are proactive during drought in order to minimize short- and long-term damages. Many existing drought education efforts take place focus on short-term response and recovery. Such ad-hoc responses often fail to enhance long-term rangeland sustainability and ongoing drought vulnerability (Wilhite, 2005). Drought response programs that encourage ranchers to “wait and see” may result in overgrazed and degraded rangelands (Thurow and Taylor 1999). In addition to drought, other events such as grasshopper infestations, wildfire, or severe hail also can result in forage shortages. These events must also be included as part of an overall plan.

Variabilityin Precipitation and Forage Production

Varying amounts of precipitation from year to year or during periods within a year has presented a challenge to agriculture for centuries. By one definition, drought conditions exist when precipitation is 25% below the average for a defined period of time. For many Great Plains and western states, it is not uncommon for a location to have recurring drought whether it is described on a yearly basis or during a critical period during the growing season (Fig. 1).