Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying that "an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure." Putting that advice into practice, North Dakota State University Extension has kicked off a six-week webinar series on preparing ranches for drought. Though the series is aimed primarily at operations in North Dakota, much of which is in some stage of drought, it can be useful for livestock producers in drought-stricken areas in adjacent states.

The way things look now, livestock producers should "be prepared for less grass" in pastures and hayfields. So, "develop your drought management strategies now!" said Kevin Sedivec, NDSU Extension range specialist, during the first of the six sessions held Feb. 11. Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota State Climatologist, also spoke.

The 2020 growing season was dry, but abundant subsoil moisture helped to produce relatively good forage for many livestock producers. Now, however, subsoil reserve is virtually gone, and the lack of snow cover in much of the state further clouds the outlook for 2021 forage, Sedivec said.

Another concern is that minimal snow cover limits the ability of snow melt to replenish dugouts, or excavations that hold water for livestock, he said.

Sedivec's advice to ranchers includes these steps:

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  • Turn out livestock to pasture when pasture is ready this spring. Be sure to start in a pasture that wasn't overgrazed in 2020.

  • Minimize multiple years of overgrazing a pasture. "Our pastures and range in North Dakota, are very resilient and can tolerate one year of overgrazing," but multiple years of doing so leads to serious problems, Sedivec said.

  • Begin now to start planning to buy more hay if needed.

  • If precipitation is low in May through mid-June, start implementing your drought plan early.

  • Summer rains in late June and July won't add much quantity of grass to pastures, but will improve quality.

  • Two years of drought will mean "grazing management alone can save you" and reducing the number of your animals or adding more land will be necessary.

Akyuz examined what happened in previous years to find what's known as an analog for current conditions. An analog involves examining current atmospheric conditions and looking for previous years with similar conditions. Unfortunately, there is rarely a perfect analog for any future weather event.

The 2012 crop season was the closest analog that Akyuz could find. Using 2012 as an analog, the spring of 2021 could be relatively wet, with both the summer and fall of 2021 relatively dry, Akyuz said.

The remaining five weekly sessions, all held at 1 p.m. on a Thursday, are:

Feb. 18: "Drought trigger dates and grazing strategies."

Feb. 25: "Supplemental feed and forage options."

March 4: "Water supply and quality."

March 11: "Herd management and reduction strategies."

March 18: "Managing stress during drought."

More information on the webinar series visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/drought.

For print information information on coping with drought conditions, check out the NDSU Extension publication “Strategies for Managing Drought in the Northern Plains," available at http://tinyurl.com/DroughtManagementStrategies.