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North Dakkota ranchers facing severe drought

Agriculture.com Staff 02/12/2016 @ 3:51am

Gerry Sailer has been ranching most of his 70 years, and he's never seen conditions this dry.

The Hettinger, N.D., rancher and others in that drought-stricken area are learning what they can do to best cope with the situation.

North Dakota State University Extension specialists recently hosted meetings throughout hard-hit south-central and southwestern North Dakota. Specialists discussed range and forage issues, livestock management, economics and other topics as well as answered questions from the 360 people who attended.

"We provided information to help ranchers as they go through the process of making some tough decisions," said Greg Lardy, NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist.

Sailer said the Hettinger meeting he attended provided "information on where you can get your biggest bang for your buck as far as nutrients. The economic considerations were really helpful and gave us a lot to think about. We should make it through the summer grazing season, but we're going to try to rely more on concentrates rather than buying hay this winter because of the cost of transportation."

However, Steve Koester of Steele said his pastures will be grazed out soon, so he'll have to start providing his cattle with supplemental feed. At the Extension drought meeting in Steele, he learned "about the different types of crops that can be planted yet and the success rates with those crops." He plans to plant some triticale for fall grazing.

Koester said the meeting pointed out the importance of water quality during a drought. "It is important to watch water quality in a year like this and keep in mind the volume of water needed during these extreme temperatures. We also have to watch out for forage quality since it can really vary in a year like this.

"When we're trying to make business decisions in a year like this, the margins are so tight, we can't afford to make mistakes,” he added. "It's been a stressful year for people and livestock, so we can forget some things. This information can help me make a more informed decision."

Burleigh County, N.D., Extension agent ElRoy Haadem is working one-on-one with ranchers, answering phone calls and getting office visits more than other years because of the drought situation.

Haadem said the four main areas he's providing information and education on are:

  • available sources of feed to get producers through the summer in areas with shortages of forage in pastures
  • acquiring feed or moving cattle outside the drought area to maintain the herd
  • putting up whatever feed sources producers can, and information about nitrates, prussic acid and other potential problems that appear during drought
  • water quality

"We're working with ranchers on valuing feed sources -- comparing hay with substituting feed grains or co-products," Haadem said. "Moving cattle to feed is being looked at this year because the cost of hauling feed is significant with fuel costs. Fifty miles adds $6 or $7 per bale. And if they need to reduce the herd, what are the implications as far as taxes and getting back into business? They want information to feel comfortable with what they’re doing."

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