Drought Advice from Dr. Mick

We are all hoping that weather conditions in 2022 bring us out of the drought of 2020 and 2021, yet it is possible that some readers could still be dealing with the fallout from the lack of precipitation.

Expectations for Cattle Producers
Western South Dakota is the origin of many of the calves on the market today. This region has also suffered from drought conditions over the past few years. The decreased precipitation affects the quantity of grass available to livestock, and it is challenging to truck in enough hay/alfalfa to meet the needs of the herds. Yet, the more significant issue for area producers is the lack of water for the animals and the inability to physically transport enough water to keep them healthy. This leaves farmers and ranchers to determine whether they should relocate or sell some, a majority, or all of their herds.

Sending cattle out of state in search of environments with more plentiful feed and water can be expensive. Many producers are opting to sell part or all of their herd. The cows and calves are split and sold individually at the sale barn most of the time. This floods the market with meat, and the extra head affects other ends of the cattle market.

When a producer acquires drought-exposed calves, they are often lightweight. Yet they are surprisingly healthy. A long-term health protocol designed to meet the needs of these calves during their stay at their new location should be established with a veterinarian. When a vaccination program has been developed, producers should stay aggressive with it. In addition, a nutritionist can help develop rations specially designed for these lightweight animals.

As they look to the financial side of these buying and selling decisions, producers should consider the income implications of selling. They should also contemplate getting input from their farm financial advisor or commodities expert to help them manage the financial impact of herd sales and repopulation during a drought. In addition, many producers could benefit from working with the FSA office when developing their long-term repopulation plan.